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Title: Recycling of rare earths: challenges and opportunities
Authors: Binnemans, Koen
Jones, Peter Tom
Van Gerven, Peter
Blanpain, Bart #
Issue Date: 2012
Conference: 1st Rare Earth Elements and Compounds Conference location:Münster (Germany) date:5-6 September 2012
Abstract: The rare-earth elements (REEs) are becoming more and more important, because of their essential role in permanent magnets, lamp phosphors, catalysts and rechargeable batteries. The increasing popularity of hybrid and electric cars, wind turbines and compact fluorescent lamps is causing an unprecedented increase in the demand and price of REEs. In its landmark report Critical Raw Materials for the European Union (2010), the European Commission considers the REEs as the most critical elements, with the highest supply risk. With China presently producing more than 90% of the global production of the REEs, Europe is heavily dependent on China, even though it possesses less than 40% of the proven reserves. China is not only mining REEs, but is also specialised in the extraction of REEs from ores, in the separation of concentrates of REEs in the individual elements, and in the production of REE permanent magnets and lamp phosphors from purified REEs. Because of large domestic demands, China tightened its REE export quota from 50.145 tonnes in 2009 to only 31.130 tonnes in 2012. This causes serious problems for consumers of REEs outside China, and also for the development of a more sustainable, low-carbon economy. Mining companies are now actively seeking for new exploitable rare earths deposits and old mines are reopened. For instance, the Mountain Pass Mine in California has restarted production in 2012. Because the REE deposits in Europe are still at the stage of exploration, the opening of new mines is unlikely in the near future and Europe has to rely on recycling of REEs from pre-consumer scrap and (often complex, multi-material) End-of-Life products (“urban mining”). However, as recently pointed out in the influential UNEP report Recycling Rates of Metals (2011), less than 1% of the REEs are currently being recycled, mainly due to inefficient collection, technological problems and (until now) lack of incentives. Furthermore, used permanent magnets and other REE-containing waste are currently shipped back to China, resulting in a significant loss of valuable resources. A drastic improvement in End-of-Life recycling rates for REEs in Europe is, therefore, an absolute necessity, in line with the goals of the EU’s Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe (2011). This can only be realised by developing new efficient recycling routes. This talk will give an overview of the problems and possible solutions associated with the recycling of the rare earths two main applications of REEs: permanent magnets and lamp phosphors. These two applications represent more than 70% of the rare-earth market by value. Special emphasis will be paid to the development of sustainable closed materials loops for the rare earths.1

1 P.T. Jones, T. Van Gerven, K. Van Acker, D. Geysen, K. Binnemans, J. Fransaer, B. Blanpain, B. Mishra, D. Apelian, Journal of Metals (JOM) 2011, 63(12), 14.
Description: Invited lecture by Koen Binnemans
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IMa
Appears in Collections:Process Engineering for Sustainable Systems Section
Sustainable Metals Processing and Recycling
Molecular Design and Synthesis
# (joint) last author

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