Rare earth elements are essential for use in modern technologies and are critical components of most electronic gadgets. Despite the significance of the rare earth elements, just about 1% of them are recycled from end-products, with the rest converted to waste.
There have been recent challenges regarding developing an effective process for rare earth element recycling. This article will discuss the different methods of recycling rare earth elements and show that it is possible to recycle rare earth elements from waste to manufacture permanent magnets.
Applications of Rare Earth Elements
Rare-earth elements, also referred to as rare earth metals, are a group of 17 different elements, each with a characteristically similar physical feature: silvery-white soft heavy metals. Scandium and Yttrium are also rare-earth elements because they are found in the same ore deposits as most lanthanides and exhibit similar chemical properties but differ in electronic and magnetic properties. Every rare earth element has various applications and uses.
Here are some of their applications:
Scandium alloys are used in making aerospace components and radioactive tracing agents in oil refineries.
Yttrium is used in making camera lenses and refractive telescope lenses.
Promethium is used in making car batteries.
Samarium is used in making lasers, neutron capture, and control rods of nuclear reactors.
Other applications of rare earth elements include making a hard disk drive, magnets, x-ray machines, metal-halide lamps, Fiber-optic technology, LED light bulbs, etc.
Waste That May Contain Rare Earth Element
Rare earth elements are an emerging pollutant that is a risk to the environment due to their increasing use in different technological applications. Electronic waste remains a significant source of rare earth element pollution. This is because electronic waste contains high concentrations of rare earth elements which are often handled in an unsafe manner that are hazardous to the environment.
Recycling of Rare Earth Elements
Rare earth metals are very critical components present in different consumer products such as permanent magnets, electric vehicles, smartphones, and more. It occurs naturally as a mixture in ores and must be purified before use. The mining of rare earth elements is costly, so it is cheaper to recycle rare earth elements that have been processed into materials.
Despite their capability for reuse, rare earth-containing products are used just once and discarded. Recycling rare earth elements would provide a steady supply of rare earth metals to manufacturers while reducing waste and the significant environmental burden it causes. Electronic waste is a major source of rare earth elements.
Recent advancement in recycling technology has made the extraction of rare earth elements from these materials more feasible. For instance, there are operational recycling plants in Japan where there are an estimated 300,000 tons of rare earth metals stored in unused electronics.
Also, in France, efforts are being made toward establishing two factories that will produce 200 tons of rare earth metals per year from used fluorescent lamps, batteries, and magnets. Also, coal and by-products are potential sources of critical elements, including rare earth elements estimated to produce about 50 million metric tons of rare earth elements.
Methods of Rare Earth Elements Recycling
The development of efficient and economic strategies for rare earth element recycling depends on different factors, including commodity prices, size of deposits, costs for disposal, and hazard potential.
The methods used by most developed nations in rare earth element recycling from used electronics are:
Shredding and grinding gadgets into a powder form from which the essential components are extracted, i.e., rare earth elements.
Pyrometallurgical methods separate elements from the electronic waste by heating to very high temperatures. This method requires a high amount of energy.
Liquid-liquid extraction is another common method currently in use. In this method, the wastes are dissolved in strong acids before extracting rare earth using a series of solvents.
Uses of Recycled Rare Earth Elements
There has been increased use of recycled rare earth elements. Most rare earth elements are used in the production of catalysts and magnets. Rare earth elements are vital in producing high-performance magnets, alloys, glasses, and electronics.
Method Used in Manufacturing Rare Earth Magnets
Recycled rare earth elements can be used to manufacture rare earth magnets. Rare earth magnets are strong permanent magnets made from alloys of rare-earth elements. They are the strongest kind of permanent magnet and produce a stronger magnetic field than other types of magnets.
Rare earth magnets such as Neodymium magnets are mainly manufactured through a powdered metallurgical process. In this method, a suitable composition is pulverized into a fine powder, compacted, and heated to cause densification through “liquid phase sintering.” Permanent magnets such as Ferrite, Samarium Cobalt (SmCo), and neodymium-iron-boron magnets are made through this method. In conclusion, rare earth elements recycled from waste can be used to manufacture permanent magnets.
Thank you for reading our article and we hope it can help you to have a better understanding of recycling rare earth metals. If you want to learn more about ferrite magnets or other types of magnets, we would like to advise you to visit Stanford Magnets for more information.
As a leading magnet supplier across the world, Stanford Magnets has been involved in R&D, manufacturing, and sales of magnets since the 1990s. It provides customers with high-quality permanent magnets like SmCo magnets, AlNiCo magnets, and ferrite magnets (ceramic magnets) at a very competitive price.