Yogyakarta, BRIN Public Relations. Rare Earth Elements (REE) are a collection of 17 chemical elements on the periodic table, mainly the 15 elements of the lanthanide series plus scandium and yttrium. The elements of REE have been applied in the development of advanced industries in strategic sectors, so that they have high economic value. One of them is monazite sand from Bangka Island as a by-product of tin mining which contains 67.6% REE.

In order to be useful, REE needs to be processed and purified. BRIN has processing and refining facilities for REE, one of which is in the BRIN Yogyakarta Accelerator Technology Research Center (PRTA) complex. “This facility has become the national reference in the development of REE, which then prompted a team of experts from the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs to visit the REE Lab in Yogyakarta to ensure its readiness in the development of REE in the future,” explained BRIN Acting Director of Research and Innovation Infrastructure Partnership Strengthening, Salim Mustofa last Friday (11/3).

According to Salim, this is an opportunity for BRIN to help encourage the preparation of research schemes and the downstreaming of REE research results. “BRIN surely supports the efforts of the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, which will collaborate with stakeholders from the private sector in the development of REE. This is also an opportunity for the private sector to become BRIN’s partners and have opportunities for downstreaming of REE research results,” he added.

This focused group discussion on REE is aimed at accelerating industrialization of REE in Indonesia. On the same occasion, Special Advisor to the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs Yohanes Surya said that the stakeholders related to REE have gathered, discussed, and prepared the road map. “Hopefully within the next three months we will have concrete results that will be the driving force for downstreaming in the development of REE,” said Surya.

Meanwhile, for BRIN PRTA, this is important to develop research on REE processing. “We have facilities for processing and refining REOH into elements of Ce, La, Nd with a capacity of 10 kg/batch,” explained Acting Head of BRIN PRTA, Imam Kambali.

He explained that y BRIN PRTA has excellent and competent researcher human resources in the field of REE who are ready to have research collaboration with stakeholders. “BRIN PRTA has experienced researcher human resources in this field as well as the supporting facilities. Meanwhile, the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs sees that REE has the opportunity to be developed to an industrial scale, so we are ready to have research collaboration,” said Imam.

According to Imam, currently REE is in great demand. “Many parties are competing to get REE, but few know how to process it from nature,” he explained. He gave an example of monazite sand as a source of REE. Currently it is only waste disposal in tin mines. In fact, according to him, if managed it properly, the sand can be reused and can even have high economic value.

“REE has many benefits such as to improve the quality of industrial products, as the raw materials for producing cyclotron-based radio isotopes for medical purposes, and others,” said Imam. According to him, developed countries such as China and the US are starting to take interest in REE and are serious about developing it to be applied to technology-based devices such as smart phones, computers, televisions, medical devices, defense, and electric vehicles which are currently the concern of many countries. Therefore, the great potential of REE, especially in Indonesia, needs to be further developed.

Rare Earth Element Research Downstream Products

REE research by BRIN researchers has been around for a long time. “The first step to industrializing REE begins with the establishment of a monazite sand processing facility. The ex-PTBGN office in Pasar Jum’at which now has migrated to BRIN has a monazite processing facility to separate U and Th, in order to obtain hydroxide REE or LTJOH. The process of separating and purifying REE elements from LTJOH or REOH is applied at the REOH facility at BRIN PRTA Yogyakarta,” explained Suyanti, a Researcher in the field of Process Chemistry at BRIN.

According to Suyanti, the results of lab-scale process and the facilities have been widely used other researchers outside PRTA. “Ce-oxide is used as the raw material for Solid Oxide Fuel Cells, sensors, doping materials in the manufacturing of LLTO type batteries and phosphor displays, La-oxide as the raw material for anti-radar paint and Nd-oxide for magnetic materials,” she added.

“In addition, PRTA together with ex PTBGN in collaboration with PT Rekin have conducted an economic study establishing a plant for processing monazite into Ce-oxide, La-oxide and Nd-oxide in 2021,” said Suyanti.

She revealed that after migrating to BRIN, research on REE will focus on supporting one of PRTA services. “We are refining REE as a target material for the manufacturing of accelerator-based radioisotopes,” she said.

To maintain the quality of REE research, Imam will seek to revitalize the facilities. “What we need to do is to revitalize the REE facility, replace worn out components, and update the analysis detector so that the analysis results are accurate,” concluded Imam. (hmw/ ed: mun)