Meet our SIM² Researcher: Isadora Reis Rodrigues

Isadora Reis Rodrigues is a PhD student at the Department of Materials Engineering (MTM) at KU Leuven. She is working on the development of a physical separation method for rare-earth ions using strong magnetic fields. The work is performed under the supervision of Prof. Jan Fransaer (MTM) and Prof. Koen Binnemans (Dept. of Chemistry). (Leuven, 7-5-218)

Why did you choose to work in Belgium?

I have always been a traveler: before Belgium I lived in Canada, South Asia, and North Africa. When I moved to Europe, I spent some time moving between places. I was first in Antwerp (Belgium), then in Thun (Switzerland), and finally in Lille (France). Among these 3 European countries, Belgium was by far the country where I felt the most at home. This is definitely the first reason why I looked to come back here when I decided to do my PhD. I may add the very fortunate feeling of having Brussels so close, it is not only the capital of Europe, but also this colourful melting pot of so many cultures, which I like a lot.

What are you working on?

I am working in a project where we use strong magnetic fields to develop a physical separation method for rare-earth (RE) ions. Many elements from the RE group are considered critical because of their role in the production of permanent magnets, the use in green technologies and in many daily life devices. More sustainable routes for the production and recycling of these metals are crucial. In this sense, the big picture of the project I work on is to develop a cleaner alternative for the chemical separation methods which are traditionally available. The idea of a magnetic separation method is particularly interesting for RE ions, as across the RE group the magnetic properties vary significantly (i.e. Y3+ is diamagnetic, Nd3+ is paramagnetic and Dy3+ is strongly paramagnetic). The use of magnetic fields to manipulate macroscale particles is a well-known method applied to the separation of magnetic materials. However, the effect of magnetic fields on small molecules and ions, is rather controversial, which is at the same time challenging and exciting.

What attracts you in the research project you are working on?

First of all, I like to think my work can have an impact towards cleaner industrial processes. The environmental aspect is since long time a crucial engagement for me. Secondly, the fact that together with few other research groups around the world, we are still looking for very fundamental answers. Trying to solve this “magnetic” scientific puzzle is quite interesting: how the magnetic force acts in a solution of ions, the impact of the experimental conditions, etc. Each small step is constantly teaching me something new. Finally, most of my work has been based on a technique called Mach-Zehnder interferometry: it is very visual, we can actually see the mobility of the ions during the magnetisation experiments. This brings a very interactive-colourful perspective to my work. Ah! and please, let me not forget about one very important part, the colleagues with whom I share the daily lab life, they make all the difference.

What helps you to overcome the difficulties of life?

One of the things that helps me a lot, is to simply work. I figured out that active mind and body are very useful tools to build on and to sustain the inner strength to face life issues. Other thing that I cherish a lot is to have few small rituals to bring a type of meaningfulness to the everyday life, this is also one of my good anchors.

When are you the happiest?

When I am drinking chimarrão (typical tea from south Brazil) in my mom’s sunny garden and my two nieces are around. Also, I feel very happy when I have the chance to teach yoga or when I am in my kitchen cooking something vegan for friends.

Bio Isadora Reis Rodrigues

Isa_AntwerpIsadora Reis Rodrigues was born in Cruz Alta, Brazil, 1982. In 2004 she obtained a Bachelor Degree in Industrial Chemistry at the Universidade Federal de Santa Maria. She moved to Canada in 2007 to conduct her Masters Studies at the Université de Montréal, where she worked in the field of lithium-ion batteries. Her growing interest in sustainable technologies in general, and rechargeable batteries in particular, brought her to work for IREQ (Canda) and FPTI (Brazil), both research institutes active in the energy sector and engaged with e-mobility. Currently, she is in her third year of her PhD studies at the Department of Materials Engineering at KU Leuven, working on the magnetic separation of rare-earth ions, under the supervision of Prof. Jan Fransaer (Dept. of Materials Engineering) and Prof. Koen Binnemans (Dept. of Chemistry).


New Policy Brief on bauxite residue reprocessing

Could “red mud” be the answer to some of Europe’s critical-metal supply concerns? That’s the central question addressed in the April 2016 EU MSCA-ETN REDMUD Policy Brief, authored by one of Europe’s finest red mud experts, i.e. Dr. Thymis Baleomenos (Aluminium of Greece). (Leuven, 18-4-2018)

The answers to the current raw-material supply challenges being faced by Europe lie in technological innovations that increase the efficiency of resource utilisation and allow the exploitation of yet untapped resources, such as industrial waste streams and metallurgical by-products. One of the key industrial residues that is currently not or only poorly valorised is bauxite residue (BR, more commonly known as “red mud”) from alumina refineries.

REDMUD_PB_1st_PAGEIn 2016 the European alumina and primary-aluminium industries utilised about 12 million tonnes of bauxite to produce about 7 million tons of alumina (out of the 115 million tonnes produced worldwide), and imported an additional 4 million tonnes of alumina to produce about 4 million tonnes of primary aluminium (out of the 59 million tonnes produced worldwide).

A number of processes have been proposed, but never implemented, for the simultaneous recovery of the major metals from bauxite residue (towards “zero waste” objective). Despite the lab-scale success of much of the work so far the industrial utilization of BR is estimated at just 2-4 million tonnes, accounting for less than 2.5% of the annual BR production.

The main barriers to applying any solution for the valorisation of BR are the techno-economic viability of the solution and the legislative environment. To change this, environmental policy actions are needed, to provide incentives for industrial symbiosis and simplify the waste-transfer or waste de-characterisation process across Europe.

Download REDMUD Brief April 2016 here.

Key info Policy Brief REDMUD, April 2018

  • Author: Dr. Thymis Baleomenos (Mytilineos S.A.- Aluminium of Greece)
  • Project website REDMUD:
  • Design:
  • Acknowledgements: This project has received funding from the European Union’s EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation Horizon 2020 under Grant Agreement No 636876
  • Disclaimer: the views expressed in this article are the private views of the author and may not, under any circumstances, be interpreted as stating an official position of ETN REDMUD or SIM² KU Leuven.

Read more about similar issues in our associated Policy Briefs:

Thymis Baleomenos

Thymis Baleomenos

Bio author: Dr. Efthymios Balomenos studied mining and metallurgical engineering at the National Technical University of Athens and received his PhD degree in thermodynamics from the same school in 2006. Since 2008 he has been working in the Laboratory of Metallurgy as a postdoc researcher focusing on sustainable process development, CO2-mitigation strategies, exergy analysis and resource-utilisation efficiency. He has been involved in the coordination and research management of several European Research projects under FP7 and H2020. He has 25 publications in peer-reviewed journals and books with over 180 citations (h-index 8). The majority of these publications relate in one way or another to the field of bauxite-residue treatment. Since 2015 he has been employed in Mytilineos S.A.- Aluminium of Greece as residue-valorisation engineer and represents Mytilineos at the European Aluminium Innovation Hub.

A new association for the global REE industry

On March 29, 2018, the official kick-off event for the GloREIA project took place in Brussels. GloREIA is to become a new, global association for the rare earth industry. The GloREIA project receives support from EIT RawMaterials. (Leuven, 5-4-2018)

There are industry associations for nearly all metals, but rare-earth metals (REEs) (which are among the most contentious) have not found an association to promulgate them into a sustainable industry. To fill this gap and to make to strategy for new association, representatives from around 40 rare earth mining, separation companies, metal, magnet manufacturers, automotive suppliers, NGOs, universities and EU institutions gathered in Brussels on 29th March under the umbrella of GloREIA project sponsored by EIT Raw Materials, a European Commission sponsored organization.

Kick-off event

Opening the kickoff event, the project managers, Dr. Nabeel Mancheri, a rare earth economist of more than 8 years’ experience in the REE sector and Gwendolyn Bailey, a rare earth scientist, reaffirmed the relevance and need for such an international association in absence of a coordinating body to manage rare earth issues internationally. Dr Nabeel Mancheri reiterated that the absence of such a representative body and a referral point for the REE stakeholders across value chain deepened the REE problem in 2010-11, as there was a real communication gap between different stakeholders, communities and nations, and absence of a coordinating mechanism to roll out a collective global solution. The association will strive to avoid such a catastrophe happening in future. The reason an association like this one does not exist is not because it is not needed. On the contrary, the REE industry faces numerous obstacles such as inefficient recovery of rare earths from end users/end products, high environmental impact from production and processing, high volatility of the raw material prices and low competition from countries outside China.

Kick-off event GloREIA, 29-3-2018, Brussels

Kick-off event GloREIA, 29-3-2018, Brussels

Prof. Dudley Kingsnorth and Dan Packey highlighted the issue of illegal/grey mining in China and consequent environmental costs and, how an international association can help China to overcome these problems. It would be pertinent to draw the big six Chinese SOEs to the association and through the association, the global RE industry can aim to achieve a more balanced and sustainable market. Dr  Chen, representing Association of China Rare Earth Industry (ACREI), explained the efforts of China in correcting rare earth imbalances. He shared, China would be more outward looking in coming years through investments in foreign RE assets and buy back agreements. He asserted that China would be more than willing to assist the association and he foresees a close cooperation between ACREI and GloREIA. Dr. Gareth Hatch of Technology metals, LLC lauded the timely efforts of the team and explored the synergies between the objectives of the association and the ongoing works on the international standardization. Professor Roderick Eggert of Critical Material Institute outlined different business plans that the association can emulate and explored the cooperation between CMI and GloREIA. He pointed out that the Mountainpass is expected to start the production sometime soon as an independent, single entity and cooperation of China in reopening of the mine. This is an example of the types of trends that we could observe for our future. Nick Kotaki from Material Trading Company of Japan, explained the Japanese RE market, particularly after the crisis in 2010-11 and hoped that if such an organization existed at that time, the things would have been better. Elbert Loois shared a similar view and explained the trajectory of forming the resources alliance (RA) in Germany in a post- crisis period.

Project info and partnership

The GloREIA project is coordinated by KU Leuven, Belgium and supported by Leiden University, Netherlands  Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS), KOLEKTOR GMBH, Germany, NEO Performance Materials, Estonia and Magneti, Slovenia as consortium partners. Lynas Corporation Limited, Rainbow Rare Earths Limited joined as external partners. The advisory board consists of leading rare earth experts such as Dudley Kingsnorth, Industrial Mineral Company of Australia, Dan Packey, Curtin University, Perth Australia, Nick Kotaki, CEO, Material Trading Company of Japan, Chen Zhanheng, Vice president, Association of China Rare Earth Industry, Gareth P Hatch, CEO, Technology Metals Research LLC, UK, Elbert Loois, CEO, HiTech Materials Advisory, Germany, Roderick Eggert, Professor, Colorado School of Mines and Deputy Director, Critical Material Institute, Department of Energy, USA, Arnold Tukker, Director, Institute of Environmental Sciences, Leiden University, Netherlands and Karel Van Acker, Professor Department of Material Engineering, KU Leuven, Belgium.

About GloREIA’s Objectives

The main objectives of the GloREIA project are to

  • GATHER the key REE stakeholders, best practices and, most importantly, life cycle data to state a common vision for developing a sustainable Rare Earth Industry and Circular Economy.
  • CREATE operational synergies, methods, based on best practices, reports and data from previous projects and evaluations. The organization will also set up and manage a database of life cycle inventories with and for industry members and scientists in the REE field.
  • SHARE & TRANSFER sustainability objectives through collaborative research efforts, data and publications.

GloREIA’s ambitious goal is to develop a more synergistic REE supply chain; aiming to reduce the deep fragmentation known in this sector.  The GloREIA consortium assembles the best European manufacturers and academic expertise on REEs, together with global associations such as the Chinese Society of Rare Earths (CSRE) and Association of China Rare Earth Industry, Critical Material Institute (CMI)   and EIT Raw Materials so that research and policy activities in the area of Rare Earth Elements can be streamlined, integrated and mutually strengthened for the benefit of all stakeholders.

The direct impacts of the association will include the collective benefit of working towards more cooperation; thus, towards a conjoined and coherent approach towards raw materials policies and investments. Impacts for the individual stakeholders will be increased knowledge and understanding of the issues at hand, better access to international networks including those of other stakeholder groups and other regions.

For more information please contact:

Nabeel Mancheri, Project Manager – Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML), Leiden University,, T + 31 (0) 71 527 5643

Non-aqueous SX provides enhanced separations

In the framework of the ERC SOLCRIMET project SIM² KU Leuven researchers have found that replacement of water by ethylene glycol provides enhanced selectivity in the solvent extraction of transitions metals from rare earth elements. These findings have now been published in an Open Access paper in the Journal Separation and Purification Technology (Leuven, 2-4-2018)


Graphical abstract demonstrating the principle of non-aqueous solvent extraction (SX)

Paper rationale

Conventionally, solvent extraction of metals consists of one organic phase containing extractants and one aqueous phase containing the metals to be separated. In fact the aqueous phase is not a must, as long as two immiscible phases can be formed, solvent extraction of metals can be performed.

In this work, the conventional aqueous phase was replaced by an ethylene glycol solution for the separation of transition metals from rare earth elements, which is relevant to the recycling of critical metals from secondary resources. The organic phase was Aliquat 336 (a commercial alkyl ammonium chloride extractants) dissolved in toluene. Compared with the extraction from the aqueous solutions, the non-aqueous solvent extraction from the ethylene glycol solution showed higher efficiency for the transition metal chlorides which is because that the complexes of transition metal chlorides are more readily formed in the ethylene glycol solution; while the rare earth chlorides were not extracted at all through they can be extracted from the aqueous solutions, the difference can be attributed to the weak salting-out effect of the ethylene glycol solution.

In principle, any metal ion that can form an anionic complex with chloride ions can be effectively separated from the rare earths by non-aqueous solvent extraction from the ethylene glycol solutions with Aliquat 336.

Full reference paper

Zheng Li, Xiaohua Li, Stijn Raiguel, Koen Binnemans, Separation of transition metals from rare earths by non-aqueous solvent extraction from ethylene glycol solutions using Aliquat 336, Separation and Purification Technology, 201, 318–326 (2018) –


The research leading to these results received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme: Grant Agreement 694078—Solvometallurgy for critical metals (SOLCRIMET).

Bio main author

Dr. Zheng Li (LIC, SIM² KU Leuven)

Dr. Zheng Li (LIC, SIM² KU Leuven)

Dr. Zheng Li is a postdoctoral researcher working with Prof. Koen Binnemans in the group of LIC at SIM² KU Leuven. He obtained his PhD from the University of Melbourne in Australia in March 2016 and started to work on SOLCRIMET project at KU Leuven from May 2017.



New paper on direct recycling of NdFeB alloys

The colleagues from TU Darmstadt and Fraunhofer IWKS in Germany present material-to-material (direct) recycling approaches for NdFeB magnet alloys. The paper is published in the Journal of Sustainable Metallurgy. This work is in line with the broader efforts of the EU research community to develop both direct and indirect recycling processes for EoL NdFeB magnets that are used in e-mobility, wind turbines and automated industrial machines. (Leuven, 28-3-2018)



Rare earth permanent magnets are an integral part of many electrical and electronic devices as well as numerous other applications, including emerging technologies like wind power, electric vehicles, fully automated industrial machines, and robots. Due to their outstanding properties, magnets based on Nd–Fe–B alloys are often not substitutable by employing less critical material systems. The colleagues from TU Darmstadt and Fraunhofer IWKS now present material-to-material (direct) recycling approaches maintaining the magnet alloys and using them directly for a new magnet production loop. The recycled magnets compete well with those made from primary materials and have a much reduced environmental footprint; an important step regarding the shift towards a Green Economy.

Full reference TU Darmstadt/Fraunhofer paper

O. Diehl, M. Schönfeldt, E. Brouwer, A. Dirks, K. Rachut, J. Gassmann, K. Güth, A. Buckow, R. Gauß, R. Stauber, O. Gutfleisch, Towards an Alloy Recycling of Nd–Fe–B Permanent Magnets in a Circular Economy, Journal of Sustainable Metallurgy,

Related articles

This paper is to be situated in the multiple research endeavours to develop both direct and indirect recycling schemes for EoL Nd-Fe-B magnets, as researched in EU projects like ITN EREAN, ETN DEMETER and NEOHIRE. Previous review articles on this topic can be found here:

Figure: Direct recycling approach targeted by TU Darmstadt & Fraunhofer IWKS

Figure: Direct recycling approach targeted by TU Darmstadt & Fraunhofer IWKS