Researchers at Yale Call for International Policy for Specialty Metals Recycling
September 25, 2012 9:11 AM
Researchers called for deposits on electronics and other ways to promote electronics recycling
A group of researchers from Yale University is calling for an international policy on the recycling of scarce specialty metals critical in the production of certain consumer electronics devices and other goods. The special metals include rare earth elements such as indium, gallium, and germanium.
“A recycling rate of zero for specialty metals is alarming when we consider that their use is growing quickly,” said co-author Barbara Reck, a research scientist at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.
These metals are used in small amounts for precise technological devices such as red phosphors, high-strength magnets, thin-film solar cells, and computer chips. According to the researchers, the recycling and recovery of these specialty metals is technologically and economically challenging so attempts to recycle the metals are seldom made.
"Specialty metals are used in products in only small amounts, but their value typically does not provide enough incentive to invest in a complicated recovery process. Also, the technology to do so is untested,” said Thomas Graedel, the study’s other co-author and Clifton R. Musser Professor of Industrial Ecology.
The researchers are calling for improved designs for recycling, deposits on consumer goods, recycling targets for the specialty metals, and financial incentives for the industry to employee state-of-the-art techniques for the recycling of the metals.
“Metals are infinitely recyclable in principle, but, in practice, recycling is often inefficient or essentially non-existent because of limits imposed by social behavior, product design, recycling technologies and the thermodynamics of separation,” said Reck.
Efforts to recycle these rare earth elements and specialty metals could increase as prices for rare earth metals climb. China has most of the world's rare earth deposits and has started to
how much of this rare earth material it sells to help drive prices up.
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