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Green mineral waste recycling

Researchers have developed techniques to make better use of important minerals that would otherwise go to waste in landfills. The elements being recycled will play a crucial role in greening the European economy.

Climate Change and Environment
Industrial Technologies

Recycling valuable rare earth elements (REEs) is an essential step in the transition towards resource-efficient, low-carbon circular economies in Europe. This transition will require innovative initiatives in resource and energy efficiency such as with recycling of valuable products. REEs are currently primarily produced in China, incorporated into products and exported to Europe where these valuable metals end up in a landfill. This is clearly not a sustainable consumption pattern – especially not for elements like dysprosium (Dy), which are very scarce. The EU-funded REECOVER (Recovery of rare earth elements from magnetic waste in the WEEE recycling industry and tailings from the iron ore industry) initiative worked to help secure a European supply of REEs and to strengthen ties among institutions. The consortium studied various routes for the recovery of REEs by the chemical process of electrolytic reduction. The researchers studied the viability of recovering REEs from waste, primarily Dy and neodymium (Nd) which are critical to the European economy. They studied recovery options for wastes such as apatite tailings from the iron industry and magnetic waste from electronics waste recycling. REECOVER developed two separate routes to give value to both apatite tailings and magnetic fractions of electronic waste. The researchers found that apatite tailings need to be concentrated to make REE mineral recovery more cost effective. Project partners developed technology for REE recovery that can be adapted to industrial waste from the mining and processing industries. The consortium helped recover a significant quantity of REEs (Nd, Dy and others). The researchers developed a carbothermic route to produce valuable products such as period 4 elements and calcium carbide, and demonstrated it in the lab. The team also developed an integrated value chain for concentrating and recovering REEs for iron-containing electronic waste. These results have fostered breakthrough innovation in new technologies, products and services with a high potential to achieve a greener economy in Europe.

Keywords

Recycling, rare earth elements, dysprosium, REECOVER, magnetic waste, neodymium

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