Extracting rare earth materials from consumer products

March 5, 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: Shift to green energy sources could mean crunch in supply of scarce metals

Related Stories

Using equations to mine nuclear energy resources

October 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 unconventional fossil ...

Mastery of rare-earth elements vital to America's security

March 16, 2010

Karl A. Gschneidner Jr., a senior metallurgist at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory, today cautioned members of a Congressional panel that "rare-earth research in the USA on mineral extraction, rare-earth separation, ...

Recommended for you

'Droneboarding' takes off in Latvia

January 22, 2017

Skirted on all sides by snow-clad pine forests, Latvia's remote Lake Ninieris would be the perfect picture of winter tranquility—were it not for the huge drone buzzing like a swarm of angry bees as it zooms above the solid ...

Singapore 2G switchoff highlights digital divide

January 22, 2017

When Singapore pulls the plug on its 2G mobile phone network this year, thousands of people could be stuck without a signal—digital have-nots left behind by the relentless march of technology.

Making AI systems that see the world as humans do

January 19, 2017

A Northwestern University team developed a new computational model that performs at human levels on a standard intelligence test. This work is an important step toward making artificial intelligence systems that see and understand ...

Firms push hydrogen as top green energy source

January 18, 2017

Over a dozen leading European and Asian firms have teamed up to promote the use of hydrogen as a clean fuel and cut the production of harmful gasses that lead to global warming.

1 comment

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.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.