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Minerals processing plant

ANSTO expert recognised for technological innovation in critical minerals processing

Minerals Principal Consultant, Dr Karin Soldenhoff, was honoured with the 2024 NSW Women in Mining -Technological Innovation award last week for her work as technical lead on the Australia Strategic Metals (ASM) Dubbo Project, and development of a new solvent extraction technology to separate rare earth and other critical elements.

Karin Soldenhoff award
(Left to right)  Dugald Saunders, Member for Dubbo Electoral NSW Parliament, Karin Soldenhoff and  Ian Jeffrey Gandel – Chairman of the board of directors of Australian Strategic Materials and Non-Executive Chairman of Alkane Resources

Dr Soldenhoff was nominated for the prestigious award by ASM for overcoming significant technical challenges associated with the extraction of a number of critical minerals associated with the Dubbo Project. Overcoming these technical challenges has allowed the full value of the critical minerals zirconium, niobium and hafnium to be realised.

Dr Soldenhoff had overall responsibility of framing the technical challenges, steering the associated R&D programs and helping deliver the continuous piloting programs required to support the project engineering programs.

“It was an honour to be recognised and have the great work that ANSTO does to support the mining sector in Australia in the spotlight,” said Dr Soldenhoff.

“Karin is an exceptional scientist, who has made a sustained contribution in the area of critical minerals processing while at ANSTO for over 20 years. It’s very fitting to see her recognised by her peers,” said Acting CEO Andrew Peele.

The main technical challenge in separating zirconium and niobium relates to product purity and the recovery of zirconium. Karin and the Minerals team have developed and improved upon solvent extraction technologies to achieve improved separation of zirconium and niobium, as well as zirconium and hafnium. 

Rare earth separations using solvent extraction have also been developed for the Dubbo project as part of a broader and unique capability of the Minerals team, which is being applied in support of the Australian government’s critical minerals strategy. 

These critical minerals processing innovations have benefited all phases of the project development, including preliminary economic assessments, all feasibility stages as well as commissioning and operational improvements.

Zirconium, niobium, rare earths and hafnium are critical minerals for the defence, aerospace and electronic sectors.

In her current role at Minerals, Karin provides broad technical direction for research projects and commercially sponsored projects in the area of hydrometalurgical process development of interest to ANSTO, with special emphasis on separation technologies.

Karin has worked at ANSTO since 1990 in various technical roles and has held a senior managerial role in the Minerals business unit since its inception in 2004.

Prior to joining ANSTO, Karin was employed by the Council for Mineral Technology (South Africa) between 1984 and 1988 and by Southern Cross Mining in Ghana, West Africa (1989).

­­­­­­­­­­ANSTO is a world leader in the processing of critical minerals and has supported the mining and minerals processing with process development and research services for more than 40 years.   

ANSTO is contributing to the development of sustainable, alternative supply chains for these critical minerals by working with Australia’s scientific and industrial communities on a range of national priorities and strategic initiatives, including building sovereign capability.