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Monazite is a naturally-occurring lanthanide (Ln) phosphate mineral [Lnx (PO4 )y ] and is the main industrial source of the rare earth elements (REE), cerium and lanthanum. Endeavours to ensure the security of supply of elements critical to modern technologies view bioprocessing as a promising alternative or adjunct to new methods of element recovery. However, relatively little is known about microbial interactions with REE. Fungi are important geoactive agents in the terrestrial environment and well known for properties of mineral transformations, particularly phosphate solubilization. Accordingly, this research examined the capability of a ubiquitous geoactive soil fungus, Aspergillus niger, to affect the mobility of REE in monazite and identify possible mechanisms for biorecovery. It was found that A. niger could grow in the presence of monazite and mediated the formation of secondary Ce and La-containing biominerals with distinct morphologies including thin sheets, orthorhombic tablets, acicular needles, and rosette aggregates which were identified as cerium oxalate decahydrate (Ce2 (C2 O4 )3 ·10H2 O) and lanthanum oxalate decahydrate (La2 (C2 O4 )3 ·10H2 O). In order to identify a means for biorecovery of REE via oxalate precipitation the bioleaching and bioprecipitation potential of biomass-free spent culture supernatants was investigated. Although such indirect bioleaching of REE was low from the monazite with maximal lanthanide release reaching >40 mg L-1 , leached REE were efficiently precipitated as Ce and La oxalates of high purity, and did not contain Nd, Pr and Ba, present in the original monazite. Geochemical modelling of the speciation of oxalates and phosphates in the reaction system confirmed that pure Ln oxalates can be formed under a wide range of chemical conditions. These findings provide fundamental knowledge about the interactions with and biotransformation of REE present in a natural mineral resource, and indicate the potential of oxalate bioprecipitation as a means for efficient biorecovery of REE from solution. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
COG3: The Geology, Geometallurgy and Geomicrobiology of Cobalt Resources Leading to New Product Streams (joint with Natural History Museum and Universities of Manchester, Bangor, Exeter, Loughborough and Southampton and Industrial Partner)
1/05/15 → 31/03/21