Layer-by-layer membrane modification allows scandium recovery by nanofiltration†
Aluminium scandium (Sc) alloys are stronger, more corrosion resistant and more heat tolerant than classical aluminium alloys and allow for 3D printing. In particular, the aerospace industry benefits from better fuel efficiency due to lighter materials as well as the advantages of additive manufacturing. However, Sc is currently not available in sufficient quantities and has recently been identified as a raw material critical to the economy. Due to the recentness of the demand, technologies for recovery of Sc from secondary sources are in their infancy. In this study, Sc recovery from titanium dioxide pigment production waste by nanofiltration was investigated. Custom-made layer-by-layer (LbL) modified membranes were optimized with regards to their elemental retention (i.e., selectivity towards Sc) as well as their acid resistance. In model solutions, the optimized membrane retained up to 64% ± 4% Sc, removing the major impurity, iron (Fe), efficiently (12% ± 7% retention) while achieving high flux [32 L m−2 h−1] at a low transmembrane pressure of 5 bar. Acid resistance was shown down to a pH of 0.1, which could be even further increased (up to ≤3 M HCl) by adding more bi-layers and changing the coating conditions. In real wastes, the optimized LbL membrane showed higher Sc retention (60% vs. 50%) compared to a commercial acid resistant membrane, while achieving considerably higher fluxes [27 L m−2 h−1 versus 1 L m−2 h−1, respectively at 5 bar]. It was possible to operate filtration at low transmembrane pressure with up to 70% permeate recovery and flux that was still high [∼10 L m−2 h−1]. In a nutshell, titanium dioxide pigment wastes contained sufficient amounts to satisfy the growing demand for Sc and can be exploited to their full extent by LbL nanofiltration due to the proven advantages of acid stability, Sc retention and selectivity and high achievable fluxes at low pressures.