Often, recovering rare-earth elements from recycled scraps, such as scrap electronic devices or car electronics, requires processes that aren’t very earth-friendly. Gallium [Ga], for instance, which is used in semi-conductors, including light emitting diodes [LED], photovoltaic [PV] cells, and transistors, currently has a global demand of about 200 tons.
Clearly, recovering gallium is economically important. Typically, though, gallium recovery involve smelting and skimming off the desired metals, or chemical baths.
Mitsubishi Materials Corp [MMC] has recently developed a gallium recovery technology that doesn’t involve smelting, a high energy expense, and reduces drastically the chemical solutions.
The new process, based on MMC’s existing dry- and wet-smelting technologies, results in gallium better than 99.99% pure. Additionally, the new process is better for the atmosphere, the ground and water supply, as well as being cheaper than traditional methods.
As thousands of tons of electronic devices are discarded every year, more and more emphasis is being put on responsible recycling. E-waste often contains lead, mercury, beryllium, and phosphors, to name a few, and the chemical leeching that can occur if not properly handled affects ground and water supplies. MMC’s new technology could be put to use to recover other elements from e-waste, which would make sense, both economically and environmentally.