2023.03.30 PRESS RELEASE

Successful dissolution of beryllium ore by energy-saving and CO2 reducing refining technology with microwave heating – Accelerating the realization of fusion power generation through social implementation as a versatile refining technology

National Institutes for Quantum Science and Technology
Microwave Chemical Co., Ltd.

National Institutes for Quantum Science and Technology (President: HIRANO Toshio , hereinafter referred to as “QST”), Fusion Energy Directorate, Rokkasho Fusion Institute and Microwave Chemical Co., Ltd. (CEO: YOSHINO Iwao, hereinafter referred to as “MWCC”) have been working on a joint research project on energy-saving refining technology for rare metals using microwave heating, which was signed on December 22, 2021.

Following the successful dissolution of spodumene concentrate, an actual lithium ore mined and sorted at lithium mines (joint press release on July 13, 2022 : https://mwcc.jp/news/1493/), we are pleased to announce that we have succeeded in dissolving beryl, a more difficult-to-dissolve actual beryllium ore.

The dissolution test at Rokkasho Fusion Institute, QST

C onventionally, the purification of beryllium, which is one of the rare metals, required two heating steps: First step is melting the ore at a high temperature of 2,000°C, and after that, quenching it to transform into a more easily soluble glass structure. This step is called “fritting process”. Second step is heating subsequently and dissolving the glass in concentrated sulfuric acid at 250°C or higher. This step is called “sulfation process”.

QST has successfully demonstrated dissolution of beryllium by “alkali-microwave melting technology” combining chemical reaction with microwave heating as a small scale demonstration test using 0.2 grams of a crystal of beryl as beryllium ore (press release on May 27, 2021: https://www.qst.go.jp/site/press/20210527.html).

This time, using a microwave bench device made by MWCC, which is capable of processing sample of 100 grams in weight, we applied the same technology to the dissolution test of actual beryllium ore and attempted to show its feasibility. As a result, we demonstrated that the conventional two-steps heating process for dissolution can be reduced to only one heating process. We have succeeded complete dissolution of beryllium using a mixture of actual beryllium ore and base reagent by microwave heating at 300°C under normal pressure, and subsequently by acid dissolution at room temperature under normal pressure. This has led to the transition to the scale-up demonstration stage for actual plant design.

Furthermore, in conventional ore refining technology, separate dissolution facilities are required for different types of ores due to different reaction mechanisms for each ore. We have also successfully dissolved lithium from actual lithium ore with the same conditions. From these results, it has revealed the possibility of dissolving different ores in the same dissolution equipment and even processing multiple ores at once.

QST and MWCC will standardize this new refining technology as a platform technology aiming energy saving and reduction of CO2 emission, and contribute to the realization of carbon neutrality, the stable supply of mineral resources supporting Japan’s industries, including beryllium and lithium essential for fusion power generation, and economic development through social implementation.

The impact on MWCC’s financial result is minimal.