Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

Urgent need for design for recycling of rare earths

 “The situation clearly calls for international policy initiatives to minimize the seemingly bizarre situation of spending large amounts of technology, time, energy and money to acquire scarce metals from the mines and then throwing them away after a single use.”

Yale Researchers Call for Specialty Metals Recycling http://environment.yale.edu/news/article/yale-researchers-call-for-specialty-metals-recycling/ 25 Sept 12 An international policy is needed for recycling scarce specialty metals that are critical in the production of consumer goods,
according to Yale researchers in Science.

“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.

Specialty metals, which include rare earth elements such as indium, gallium and germanium, account for more than 30 of the 60 metals in the periodic table. Because they are used in small amounts for very precise technological purposes, such as red phosphors, high-strength magnets, thin-film solar cells and computer chips, recovery can be so technologically and economically challenging that the attempt is 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 said improved design for recycling, deposits on
consumer goods, recycling targets for specialty metals and financial
incentives for industry to apply state-of-the-art separation
techniques and recycling technologies would improve metal recycling.

“Metals are infinitely recyclable in principle, but, in practice,
recycling is often inefficient or essentially nonexistent because of
limits imposed by social behavior, product design, recycling
technologies and the thermodynamics of separation,” said Reck.

The researchers said that modern technology has produced a conundrum.
The more intricate the product and the more diverse the materials it
uses, the better it’s likely to perform but the more difficult it is
to recycle.

The benefit to recycling metals, they said, includes the potential to
reduce the extraction of virgin ores, thus extending the life of those
resources. The environmental impacts of metal production are reduced
substantially when recycled materials, rather than primary materials,
are used, and recycling a metal is generally much more
energy-efficient than acquiring it from a mine.

“Depending on the metal and the form of scrap, recycling can save as
much as a factor of 10 or 20 in energy consumption,” Graedel said.
“The situation clearly calls for international policy initiatives to minimize the seemingly bizarre situation of spending large amounts of technology, time, energy and money to acquire scarce metals from the mines and then throwing them away after a single use.”

The paper, “Challenges in Metal Recycling,” can be viewed at  http://www.sciencemag.org/content/337/6095/690.full?sid=675154b0-9563-46f7-8667-4c706be7e467

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September 25, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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