Extracting rare earth materials from consumer products

Mar 05, 2013 by Nicole Stricker
Extracting rare earth materials from consumer products
Material separations scientists at INL's centrifugal contactor lab.

In a new twist on the state's mining history, a group of Idaho scientists will soon be crushing consumer electronics rather than rocks in a quest to recover precious materials. DOE's Ames Laboratory will lead the new Critical Materials Innovation Hub, and Idaho National Laboratory scientists will contribute to that effort. They'll apply expertise gleaned from recycling fissionable material from nuclear fuel to separate rare earth metals and other critical materials from crushed consumer products.

So-called —many of which can be found floating at the bottom of a standard periodic table—likely aren't far from where you're sitting. The bright red in that smartphone text or image: Europium. Powerful magnets driving electric motors in everything from to vehicles to hand tools: Dysprosium, Neodymium. Phosphors coating the innards of energy-efficient light bulbs: Terbium, Yttrium, Europium.

Many of these elements are the same ones nuclear reprocessing research has targeted for years. They're members of the lanthanide family of elements, which inhibit the fission process but are chemically similar to fissionable actinides. INL scientists have a long history of expertise devising new ways to effectively separate lanthanides from complex mixtures.

INL will now apply that expertise to recycle rare earth and other critical elements from discarded electronics. The team will develop and test new processing methods that selectively recover critical metals using supercritical fluids, membranes and electrochemical approaches. These advanced separation techniques might also help mining operations by boosting extraction from raw ore. Because these materials are subject to supply disruptions, the DOE is investing in solutions to potential domestic shortages.

Explore further: Researchers develop unique waste cleanup for rural areas

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Using equations to mine nuclear energy resources

Oct 23, 2012

Rising energy demands and environmental concerns have intensified the search for valuable energy resources. As myriad public and private entities pursue increased efficiency, reliable renewable energy or ...

Recommended for you

Team improves solar-cell efficiency

1 hour ago

New light has been shed on solar power generation using devices made with polymers, thanks to a collaboration between scientists in the University of Chicago's chemistry department, the Institute for Molecular ...

Calif. teachers fund to boost clean energy bets

1 hour ago

The California State Teachers' Retirement System says it plans to increase its investments in clean energy and technology to $3.7 billion, from $1.4 billion, over the next five years.

Idealistic Norwegian sun trappers

8 hours ago

The typical Norwegian owner of a solar heating system is a resourceful man in his mid-fifties. He is technically skilled, interested in energy systems, and wants to save money and protect the environment.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

extremity
1 / 5 (1) Mar 05, 2013
I wonder if there's a paid recycling program coming from this.