Professor Eric Schelter Awarded 2017 U.S. EPA Green Chemistry Challenge Award

June 13, 2017

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded Associate Professor Eric Schelter and his research group in the Department of Chemistry in Penn Arts and Sciences a 2017 Green Chemistry Challenge Award for his work in developing a simple, fast, and low-cost technology to help recycle rare-earth metals.

The award was given as part of the annual EPA Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge, in which industry experts and academics evaluate emerging or demonstrated technologies around their capability for green chemistry and the potential for impact and innovation.

About 17,000 metric tons of rare-earth metals are used in the United States each year in products such as wind turbines, lighting phosphors, electric motors, batteries, and cell phones. Despite the taxing environmental, economic, and political impact of the mining, refining, and purification of these materials has, they are currently only recycled at a rate of 1 percent.

“Metals never burn out,” Schelter said. “They're elements. So in principle you can extract them out of post-consumer products and use them again, but there really just isn't very good chemistry that enables us to do that. Currently with the framework that exists in industry, it's cheaper to just get things from primary sources: from mining new elements from the ground and then just using them and throwing them away.”

Through his research, Schelter hopes to enable “circular economies” by finding a way to take post-consumer products, such as permanent magnets and lighting phosphors, and extract critical and valuable materials that can re-enter the supply chain, turning into new materials with minimal added cost or pollution.

To read more about Schelter’s research, click here.