Student: Jane Le

Project: Recovering Rare Earth Elements from Municipal Solid Waster Incinerator Ash by Electrochemical and Electrodialysis Methods

ViewResearch Poster (PDF)

Institution: Lehigh University

Major: Environmental Engineering

Advisor: Sibel Pamukcu


Rare earth elements (REEs) are critical for the world economy as they are essential for the existence of many everyday technologies. For the past twenty years, there has been a high demand for technologies and therefore, a great demand for the elements that give them purpose. Currently, the main method of extraction of these elements is mining. However, mining requires the consumption of natural resources and is an unsustainable method of attaining REEs. In an effort to sustainably source REEs, research has been done in the field of electrokinetic remediation. This method of extraction involves the application of low-level electric current resulting in the passage of positively charged ions from the solid matrix to liquid matrix. The purpose of this experiment was to explore electrokinetic remediation as a feasible method of attaining REEs from ash and to determine the optimal pH that will catalyze the highest rate of REE extraction. Electrodialysis experiments and pH desorption tests were conducted. Results demonstrate proof-of-concept with more than 70% of REE extracted and an optimal pH for extraction of approximately 1.21. Additionally, heavy REE’s typically displayed higher rates of desorption and electromigration as opposed to light REE’s, suggesting an influence of atomic number on extractability.

About Jane Le

Jane is a senior pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Engineering. She began research with Dr. Sibel Pamukcu in the Spring of 2019 and works on the electrochemical extraction of rare earth elements from anthracite, bituminous and municipal solid waste ash. On campus, Jane is a Student Guide in the Lehigh University Student Scholars Institute where she works with fellow mentors, faculty and staff to inspire, support and prepare Lehigh’s F1RST+ community. Jane is also the Social Media, Marketing, Communications and Graphics Coordinator in the Eco-Rep Leadership Program where she collaborates with and encourages peer leaders to transform Lehigh into a sustainable community.