Phosphatic waste clay: Origin, composition, physicochemical properties, challenges, values and possible remedies – A review
Highlights•Over two billion tons of waste clay has been accumulated in Florida to date.•This reserve contains about 600 million tons of P and 600 thousand tons of REEs.•This reserve can satisfy a great portion of U.S. domestic demand for REEs and P.•Waste clay poses severe environmental problems along with economic loss.•Waste clay has been considered as an ultimate processing challenge in the industry.AbstractThe daily growing demand for critical materials has further highlighted the importance of secondary sources such as industrial waste streams. Waste clay, a phosphate ore process tailing, contains a remarkable amount of critical materials such as P and REEs so that comparing to different phosphate ore process streams, waste clay presents the highest concentration of REEs after phosphate rock. Due to the enormous volume of this waste accumulated in Florida to date, this reserve can satisfy a great portion of U.S. domestic demand for REEs, as an example. However, due to its troublesome nature, this reserve poses severe environmental problems along with economic loss. Two required attempts are the removal of extremely fine-sized clays, followed by the recovery of phosphate content, which can pave the path for the recovery of REE-bearing phases. Different possible remedies or combination of them have been considered by various research/ industrial trials, including froth flotation, selective-flocculation, floc-flotation, cycloning, gravity separation, magnetic separation, leaching, etc., most of which have shown no promising solution because of failing to address economic and of course environmental concerns. Moving from mostly chemical separation processes to the primarily physical/ physicochemical processes with low operational costs and environmental impacts could be a general solution. This requires detailed mineralogical and elemental characterization, physicochemical, rheological, electrochemistry, surface chemistry, crystal chemistry, solution chemistry, and quantum chemistry investigations on each single and then mixed-phase systems composing waste clay. Such insights can help develop the fundamental knowledge, upon which more versatile and efficient solutions can be established.