Physical sciences, Earth sciences

Recycling waste for rare earth metals

An innovative recycling programme aims to both reduce electronic waste and recover critical rare earth metals through recycling of flat panel displays (FPDs).

Rare earth metals from the Earth's crust are used in many high-tech applications such as electronics, computers, superconductors, lasers and clean-energy technologies like wind turbines. With ever-increasing demand for these vital elements placing a strain on their limited supply, sources that are not dependent on natural resources must be found.

The EU-funded RECYVAL-NANO project aims to recover and recycle rare earth metals from electrical and electronic equipment for the production of nanoparticles.

FPDs, found in flat-screen TVs, mobile phones, digital cameras and many other devices, are a major electrical waste source. RECYVAL-NANO, together with industrial partners that are expert in electrical waste handling and recycling, is therefore developing an innovative strategy for mechanically recycling FPDs.

Their first step was to enhance the amount and purity of metal-containing fractions from FPDs by optimising mechanical sorting and extraction techniques. They improved manual dismantling procedures to separate high-value materials from waste, and developed a technique based on magnets for separating and concentrating desired metals.

RECYVAL-NANO has also investigated ways to extract pure solutions containing the metals of interest, for direct use in the production of nanoparticles. This involved optimising hydrometallurgical processes (which use solvents to extract metals), and refining fractions obtained from mechanical recycling to concentrate and recover the valuable metal.

Ultimately, RECYVAL-NANO hopes to develop a global FPD recycling process by mechanically separating valuable materials, as well as hydrometallurgical processes for refining rare earth metals. Likely impacts include avoiding natural resource overexploitation, benefiting the environment by reducing electronic waste, and lessening the reliance of EU countries on resource-rich nations.

last modification: 2015-04-20 15:16:03

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