Recycling rare earths must be EU priority

14th January 2014


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  • Waste ,
  • Recycling ,
  • Natural resources ,
  • Products ,
  • Ecodesign

Author

Brian Mizon

EU policy needs to encourage the development of technology and infrastructure to recycle rare earth elements (REEs) to ensure sufficient long-term supplies, according to new research published recently in the journal Environmental Science & Technology

The Dutch-based research team used lifecycle and material flow methods to estimate the quantities of neodymium and dysprosium contained in end-of-life products collected in global and EU-27 recycling programmes up to 2030.

The study focused on neodymium magnets, which also sometimes contain dysprosium and are used in computer hard disk drives, direct-drive wind turbine generators and electric motors in hybrid electric vehicles.

The researchers predict that recycling rates for both elements will rise substantially by 2030 as higher volumes of end-of-life products, predominantly wind turbines and electric and hybrid vehicles, enter waste streams.

By the start of the next decade, around 450 tonnes of neodymium and 10 tonnes of dysprosium could be recycled globally, they say. And by 2030, the research forecasts that the amount of recycled neodymium will rise to 2,200 tonnes, while 460 tonnes of dysprosium will likely be recovered. This represents 9% and 7% respectively of total global demand for these elements.

Meanwhile, the Environment Agency has issued an environmental permit to Wolf Minerals UK to operate a mining waste facility at Hemerdon in Devon. It means that Wolf can shortly start production at the site, which will be one of the world’s largest tungsten mining operations, and according to the company, is the first significant mine to be constructed in the UK in more than 45 years.


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