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E-waste Recycling July 09, 2024 02:30:43 PM

Mining Rare Earth Metals From Electronic Waste

Paul Ploumis
ScrapMonster Author
However, rare earth metals are also critical because of their extraction.

Mining Rare Earth Metals From Electronic Waste

SEATTLE (Scrap Monster):  ETH researchers are developing a process inspired by nature that efficiently recovers europium from old fluorescent lamps. The approach could lead to the long-awaited recycling of rare earth metals.

In brief

A small molecule that naturally serves as a binding site for metals in enzymes also proves useful for separating certain rare earth metals from each other.

In a proof of concept, the process extracts europium directly from fluorescent powder in used energy-saving lamps in much higher quantities than existing methods.

The researchers are now working on expanding their approach to other rare earth metals. They are in the process of founding a start-up to put the recycling of these raw materials into practice.

Rare earth metals are not as rare as their name suggests. However, they are indispensable for the modern economy. After all, these 17 metals are essential raw materials for digitalisation and the energy transition. They are found in smartphones, computers, screens and batteries - without them, no electric motor would run and no wind turbine would turn. Because Europe is almost entirely dependent on imports from China, these raw materials are considered to be critical.

However, rare earth metals are also critical because of their extraction. They always occur in compound form in natural ores - but as these elements are chemically very similar, they are difficult to separate. Traditional separation processes are therefore very chemical- and energy-intensive and require several extraction steps. This makes the extraction and purification of these metals expensive, resource- and time-consuming and extremely harmful to the environment.

"Rare earth metals are hardly ever recycled in Europe," says Victor Mougel, Professor at the Laboratory of Inorganic Chemistry at ETH Zurich. A team of researchers led by Mougel wants to change this. "There is an urgent need for sustainable and uncomplicated methods for separating and recovering these strategic raw materials from various sources," says the chemist.

In a study recently published in the journal external pageNature Communicationscall_made, the team presents a surprisingly simple method for efficiently separating and recovering the rare earth metal europium from complex mixtures including other rare earth metals.

 Courtesy: www.miragenews.com

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