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: Imaginative ideas for a 'greenlight district' in Amsterdam

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

Image: Testing electric propulsion

Aug 20, 2014

On Aug. 19, National Aviation Day, a lot of people are reflecting on how far aviation has come in the last century. Could this be the future – a plane with many electric motors that can hover like a helicopter ...

Where's the real value in Tesla's patent pledge?

Aug 20, 2014

With the much-anticipated arrival next month of electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla's Model S to Australian shores, it's a good time to revisit Tesla's pledge to freely share patents. ...

New type of solar concentrator doesn't block the view

Aug 19, 2014

(Phys.org) —A team of researchers at Michigan State University has developed a new type of solar concentrator that when placed over a window creates solar energy while allowing people to actually see through ...

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.