Researchers Expand Research on Simplifying Recycling of Rare-earth Metals

December 12, 2016

In a previous study, researchers pioneered a process that could enable the efficient recycling of two rare-earth metals, neodymium and dysprosium, which are found in the small, powerful magnets in many high-tech devices.

Now, in a new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers extend the method to the entire series of rare-earth metals. In the paper, the researchers establish a pattern, showing that it’s not just selective for one or two rare earths, it can be extended to the entire series.

The paper focused on one pairing in particular, europium and yttrium, which could enable scientists to recycle rare-earth metals from compact fluorescent light bulbs.

​​​​​​​The research was led by Eric Schelter, associate professor of chemistry, and graduate students Justin Bogart and Zeke Cole. Connor Lippincott, an undergraduate student in the Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research, and Patrick Carroll, director of the X-Ray Crystallography Facility, also contributed to the study.

The incentive to develop an efficient method to recycle rare-earth metals is huge because mining and purifying them is not only expensive and labor-intensive, but takes a devastating toll on the environment.

“Everybody’s heard of blood diamonds,” says Schelter, “but maybe people haven’t heard of blood cobalt or tantalum or lithium for that matter.”

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