Smartphones, computers, and electric cars are just a few instances of how technology affects every aspect of our lives today. All of this is made possible by a class of substances known as rare earth metals, which are found in these products. Due to their distinctive qualities, these substances are crucial to modern technology. Sadly, their difficult mining and refinement make them expensive and environmentally harmful to obtain. To save resources and lessen the impact on the environment, it is crucial to discover ways to recycle them.
Let’s deep dive into the importance of rare earth metals and the benefits of recycling them.
What are Rare Earth Metals?
A collection of 17 elements known as rare earth metals includes, among other things, cerium, neodymium, europium, and yttrium. Numerous contemporary technologies, such as mobile devices, hybrid vehicles, and wind turbines, depend on these elements. They are advantageous for creating electronics, magnets, and catalysts due to their special properties.
Many high-tech devices require rare earth elements as an element. According to the U.S. Geological Survey's "Going Critical" news release:
In particular, high-tech consumer goods such as cell phones, computer hard drives, electric and hybrid cars, flat-screen monitors, and televisions call for the use of rare-earth elements (REE), which are used in more than 200 products. Defense employs a lot of electronic displays, navigational tools, lasers, radar, and sonar equipment. Despite the fact that the amount of REE used in a product may not constitute a sizable portion of it in terms of weight, value, or volume, the REE may be required for the device to operate. For instance, the voice coils and spindle motors of PCs and laptops would not be conceivable without magnets constructed of REE, which frequently make up a small fraction of the total weight.
Why Recycle? The Environmental, Economic, and Social Impacts of Our Choices
The mining and refining of rare earth metals have severe environmental impacts. The process releases toxic chemicals and waste, and it requires a significant amount of energy, making it expensive and unsustainable. Recycling rare earth metals reduces the need for mining and refining, conserves resources, and reduces environmental impacts.
How are Rare Earth Metals Recycled?
Recycling rare earth metals involves collecting electronic waste and separating the metals from other materials. The process includes shredding the electronic devices, separating the metals using chemical or physical methods, and purifying the metals for reuse.
Rare Earth Metals Recycling: The Solution to Our Growing E-Waste Problem?
REMs are employed in a variety of products, from wind turbines to cellphones, due to their special magnetic and conductive qualities. Therefore, the market for rare earth metals recycling is likely to reach a valuation of USD 421 million by 2030, as per Extrapoltae’s estimates. These metals' mining and extraction, though, may have detrimental effects on the environment and society. Fortunately, recycling rare earth metals has a number of advantages and can help to lessen these problems.
1. Reducing Environmental Impact
Rare earth metal mining can seriously harm the ecosystem. As a result of the process's deep earth-digging, deforestation, soil erosion, and water pollution may result. Furthermore, the extraction of rare earth metals necessitates the use of hazardous chemicals, which may have long-term effects on the ecosystems in the area.
By minimizing the need for new mining operations, recycling rare earth metals can assist to lessen these environmental effects. Recycling lessens the quantity of the garbage that is dumped in landfills, where it may take a very long time for it to degrade. We can conserve natural resources and lessen the carbon footprint associated with mining and extraction by recycling these metals.
2. Conserving Natural Resources
Even though rare earth metals are not all that uncommon, they are challenging to mine and refine. As a result, mining activities are frequently situated in inaccessible and distant regions, which may raise the cost of extraction. We can conserve natural resources and decrease the demand for new mining operations by reusing these metals.
Additionally, recycling rare earth metals lessens our reliance on imports of these metals. Rare earth metals are controlled by many nations, including China, which can lead to price volatility and supply chain disruptions. We can establish a more reliable and secure supply chain for these essential components by recycling these metals.
3. Creating New Economic Opportunities
It's also possible to develop new business prospects by recycling rare earth metals. Although the recycling of rare earth metals is still in its infancy, it has the potential to boost employment and the economy. We can establish a new business that can produce well-paying employment and boost the economy by creating new technologies and methods for recycling these metals.
The companies that manufacture and use rare earth metals may potentially benefit from new business prospects brought about by recycling these metals. By making investments in recycling infrastructure, these businesses may lessen their environmental effect while securing a steady and consistent supply of these metals.
Many businesses are trying to seize this potential opportunity. For instance, Lynas Rare Earths Ltd. and the US government agreed to develop a facility in the US for the separation of light rare earth in February 2021. The arrangement aims to improve the company's market position in the US.
Can We Afford to Waste Rare Earth Metals?
Recycling rare earth metals is crucial to building a sustainable future as they are required for current technology. Rare earth metal recycling has a number of advantages preserving resources, lessening negative environmental effects, and assisting regional communities.
Rare earth metal recycling is essential for lowering the environmental effect of these metals, protecting natural resources, and generating new business prospects. We can lessen our reliance on imports of these metals and establish a more reliable and secure supply chain by recycling them. We can ensure the sustainability of these vital resources with sustained investment in infrastructure and recycling technologies. To ensure a better tomorrow for everyone, it is time for us to take action and embrace the recycling of rare earth metals.