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Characterization of Lanthanum Monazite Surface Chemistry and Crystal Morphology through Density Functional Theory and Experim...

Publication Type
Journal Name
The Journal of Physical Chemistry C
Publication Date
Page Numbers
18952 to 18962

Monazite is a rare earth element (REE)-containing mineral that consists of (REE)PO4 formal units and is one of the most important sources of these critical materials. The concentration of REEs from mined monazite ore often involves froth flotation, which is a beneficiation process that enhances the efficiency of downstream processing. The effectiveness of froth flotation is largely governed by the ability of collector agents to selectively bind to monazite particles. Thus, a molecular-level understanding of monazite interfacial chemistry is integral to the design of effective collector agents. To address this need, we performed density functional theory (DFT) calculations and a variety of experimental techniques to characterize La-monazite and elucidate its crystal morphology. Interestingly, we find minimal differences in the predicted morphologies of La-monazite for hydrous and anhydrous environments, which are largely dominated by low-index facets (e.g., {110}, {100}, and {010}). Indexing of synthesized La-monazite crystals via X-ray diffraction also uncovers {110} and {100} as the predominant facets. The average surface energies of 0% and 100% water coverage La-monazite crystals were predicted to be 0.87 and 0.76 J/m2, respectively, while calorimetry suggests values of 1.30 and 1.15 J/m2, respectively. The apparent discrepancies between the theoretical and experimental values are expected and attributed to defects present in physical crystals, in contrast to the perfect mineral surfaces in simulations. The difference in surface energy between the 0% and 100% water coverage morphologies predicted by theory is consistent with the value measured via calorimetry. DFT reveals a wide range of adsorption energies for water across the studied facets, but in all cases, water is predicted to strongly bind to monazite surfaces with an average adsorption energy of −92.7 kJ/mol for a La-monazite single crystal. This study provides the groundwork necessary for the rational design of froth flotation collector agents by granting molecular-level insight into the predominant facets of monazite.