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Phone: (515) 294-8916
Phone: (515) 296-8030
Contact: James Morris
Phone: (515) 294-1202
Type: Domestic Nonprofit Research Organization
Rare earth metals and alloys that contain them are a key modern-day material used in many applications such as consumer electronics, computer memory, DVDs, rechargeable batteries, catalytic converters, magnets, and fluorescent lighting. The use of rare earth elements are vital for modern life, but the end products are rarely recycled. Recycling often requires the use of very aggressive solvents or high- temperature metal processing, and has not been historically cost-effective or environmentally superior to mining. Future demand is predicted to far outpace the exponential growth of demand for these rare earth metals and cause supply shortages in the future. Rare earth metals mining is heavily concentrated in a few countries, particularly China, which mines and refines the majority of the global supply of rare earth metals. These supply challenges impact the U.S. economy as well as its national security and energy independence, which is a critical DOE concern. New sources of rare earth elements have been identified in the U.S., but opening new mines requires long lead times (10-20 years) and large capital investments. The proposed recycling method will make possible the reclamation of a substantial amount of these rare earth metals by providing a more sustainable and economically feasible solution to their recycling. This new recycling technology is capable of recovering rare earths from complete electronic devices without first removing the rare earth-containing components and therefore providing a significant cost savings in labor compared to other technologies. This process has also been designed from the beginning to avoid costly mitigation steps required in other processes by avoiding the use of acids or other environmentally and economical harmful chemicals and techniques. The Phase I research will build upon proven laboratory results to demonstrate the overall effectiveness of this recycling process in an industry setting with mixed recycling feedstock from commercial sources. The overall objective is to demonstrate the feasibility of recycling devices containing rare earth metals by testing the recovery efficiency and purity of the materials recovered, by validating that the recovered materials can be reused to manufacture metals suitable for commercial production standards, and to show the economic feasibility of the process by examining the byproducts of this recycling process and their potential to contribute to an economically viable recycling process. This Phase I will utilize real-world conditions to demonstrate the process, showing that this technology is ready for further research and development in Phase II work. The successful application of this technology on a commercial scale will enable a nationally sustainable recycling and recovery mechanism with the potential to produce up to 20% of the rare earth magnet raw materials used annually in the United States. This would significantly reduce U.S. dependence on importation of rare earth materials, increasing energy independence while decreasing the risk of monopolistic foreign manipulation of rare earth element supplies and pricing. Commercialization of this process has the potential to generate significant job growth throughout the U.S. in the direct application of this technology in recycling but also in the upstream and downstream sectors of the market. The demand for materials containing rare earth materials will create and expand new and current markets in the material collection and recycling markets. Production of cost-competitive rare earth elements within the nation has the potential to revitalize domestic manufacturing for magnet materials and components.
* Information listed above is at the time of submission. *