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These People Are Mad – Rare Earths And Electronics Recycling

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We’re being told that we must waste resources in order to save resources. This is, of course, mad but then that’s the institutional part of the environmental movement for you. They’ve so reified recycling that they believe it’s a good thing at any cost. Oh, yes, and they’re going to change the law so as to insist that we waste resources in order to save them.

The Guardian takes up the story:

Rare elements such as indium, yttrium, neodymium, cobalt and lithium are vital for the production of low-carbon technology, but many are being thrown away because of the lack of a requirement to recycle them, industry experts have warned.

Concern is growing over the future supply of such elements, as the switch to green technology – including electric vehicles, solar panels and low-carbon heating – will require far greater volumes of rare earths and other critical raw materials.

Industry experts have called for tougher rules on recycling, in a report from Cewaste, a two-year project funded by the EU as part of its Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. The authors examined what happens to such materials currently, and their potential future supply and cost.

Well, OK, let’s just take that first one, indium. Yes, it’s the thing that makes touchscreens work. Lovely stuff. Normally extracted as a by product of getting zinc from spharelite. Usual concentrations in the original mineral are 45 to 500 parts per million.

Now, note something important about a by product material like this. If we recycle indium we don’t in fact save any indium from spharelite. Because we mine spharelite for the zinc, the indium is just a bonus when we do. So, we recycle the indium we’re already using. We don’t process out the indium in our spharelite. We just take the same amount of zinc we always did and dump what we don’t want into the gangue, the waste.

So, note what’s happened. We recycle indium and yet we dig up exactly the same amount of indium we always did. We just don’t use what we’ve dug up – we’re not in fact saving that vital resource of indium at all.

But it gets better than this. The concentration of indium in an iPhone:

Firstly, the screens were manually removed from cell phones…..The results showed that the best experimental conditions enabled extraction of 613mg of indium/kg of LCD powder.

The screens themselves and alone have about the same concentration of indium as the top end of our normal ore (600 ppm) – you know, the ore we’re going to dig up for the zinc anyway. But if we consider the phone as a whole we’ve got an indium concentration worse than the normal ore we regularly use. Plus, of course, we’ve got to collect all those phones, manually disassemble them and so on. At least the normal ore exists in thousands of tonnes at one place rather than being collected in in 500 gramme lots from vast areas of geography.

We’ll not save any indium, end up using a worse ore plus vast transport costs in the name of saving resources?

Hmm, well, do they have any sensible ideas here?

The number of waste fluorescent lamps arising has been declining since 2013. In 2025, it is
estimated there will be 92 tonnes of CRMs in waste fluorescent lamps (Ce: 10 tonnes, Eu: 4
tonnes, La: 13 tonnes, Tb: 4 tonnes and Y: 61 tonnes).

That would be the recovery from all fluorescent lamps in Europe being recycled. In a few – there’s not that much material so therefore only a few plants are needed, meaning considerable geographic spread – plants dotted around.

That’s $50k of cerium, about $100k of europium, $65k of lanthanum, $2.8 million of terbium and 2.2 million of yttrium. To all intents and purposes this is $5 million of material. For which we must have a Europe wide collection system?

They do realise this is insane which is why they insist that this must be made law. Can’t have people not doing stupid things now, can we?

Just to give another example – not one they mention. As some will know I used to supply rare earths to the global lighting industry. One particular type uses scandium. In a quarter milligram quantity per bulb. Meaning that even with perfect recycling you need to collect 4 million bulbs to gain a kilo of scandium – worth $800.

We would save resources by getting the Russians – for Sc – or the Chinese – for the others – to dig up a bit more hillside, wouldn’t we?

The entire idea is dumbfoundingly stupid. So, what’s the actual recommendation here?

CEWASTE recommends that:
• Legislation should require recovery of specific CRMs.

Yep, the law must insist everyone acts as sputum dribbling idiots.

This is, of course, a European Union insistence just coming over the horizon. Thank buggery we left, eh?

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expunct

in British English
expunct (ɪkˈspʌŋkt)
VERB (transitive)
1. to delete or erase; blot out; obliterate
2. to wipe out or destroy

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