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Recycling rare earth elements using ionic liquids
Chemistry World ^ | 15 March 2013 | Ian Farrell

Posted on 03/17/2013 4:07:52 PM PDT by neverdem

© Science Photo Library

Recycling old magnets, so that rare-earth metals can be re-used, could help to solve an urgent raw material supply problem in the electronics industry. Researchers from the University of Leuven, Belgium, have used ionic liquids to separate neodymium and samarium from transition metals like iron, manganese and cobalt – all elements that are used in the construction of permanent rare-earth magnets, which are found in electronic devices ranging from hard drives to air conditioners and wind turbines.

‘The process involves the liquid-liquid extraction of rare-earth metals from the other elements present in neodymium-iron-boron and samarium-cobalt magnets,’ explains Koen Binnemans who leads the group developing the process. ‘These other elements – including iron, cobalt, manganese, copper and zinc – are extracted into the ionic-liquid phase, while the rare-earth metals are left behind in the aqueous phase,’ he says, adding that the ionic liquid itself – trihexyl(tetradecyl)phosphonium chloride – can also be re-used, after the transition metals have been stripped out.

In traditional liquid-liquid extractions of metal ions, an aqueous phase containing the metal salt is mixed with an organic phase containing an extraction agent. Simple though they are, these processes use organic phases comprising flammable and volatile solvents, like toluene, kerosene or diethyl ether. Ionic liquids are far more environmentally friendly, having very low vapour pressure and non-flammability.

The usefulness of neodymium and samarium in the microelectronics industry is outweighed only by their lack of availability. In a register put together by the US government these were the only two elements to feature in the highest supply risk category, and the European Commission has placed them on a list of critical raw materials. Currently, the vast majority of world’s rare-earth elements come from China, and this degree of dependence gives many foreign governments an uneasy feeling, especially when the materials are so crucial to high-tech defence projects.

‘Recycling is only a partial solution to the supply-risk problem; it cannot replace primary mining, though it can complement it,’ remarks Binnemans, adding that although less than 1% of rare-earth elements are recycled currently, 20% of global demand could be met in this way. ‘By combining mining and recycling the western world could become largely independent of China in the future,’ he says.

Binnemans’ next move is to extend his work on model systems towards real-world samples from end-of-life industrial magnetics. Andy Abbott of the University of Leicester is enthusiastic about the approach. ‘The topic of processing metals using ionic liquids is gathering speed,’ he says. ‘This work is particularly useful as it is amongst the first to look at the topical area of [recycling] rare-earth metals.’

Roberts adds, ‘The concept of using ionic liquids is similar to using an ion exchange resin. The advantage is that the capacity and specificity can be improved by using a liquid extraction phase.’


T Vander Hoogerstraete et al, Green Chem., 2013, DOI: 10.1039/c3gc40198G

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: chemistry; electronics; permanentmagnets; rareearthelements

1 posted on 03/17/2013 4:07:52 PM PDT by neverdem
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To: El Gato; Ernest_at_the_Beach; Robert A. Cook, PE; lepton; LadyDoc; jb6; tiamat; PGalt; Dianna; ...
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FReepmail me if you want on or off my health and science ping list.

2 posted on 03/17/2013 4:29:55 PM PDT by neverdem ( Xin loi min oi)
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To: neverdem

This is not too difficult, since they are dealing with just one rare earth element. The problem with mining and processing rare earths is separating different rare earths, because they are chemically much alike.

3 posted on 03/17/2013 4:55:18 PM PDT by yefragetuwrabrumuy (Best WoT news at
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To: neverdem

I don’t believe any of this crap.

for example, how much of the use of ??? is completely frivolous?

a long time ago, I worked at an electronic place that from
time to time used indium solder.
every time it was used, it was to fix a screw-up, or,,,
we were in a specs-manship war with another company
and we needed 5% more output and we needed it
in a month, we would gladly use 10 bucks of indium if it
meant getting a $1000 sale, even though there
was absolutely no benefit to the end user.

4 posted on 03/17/2013 6:28:19 PM PDT by RockyTx
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To: RockyTx

I see your point.

5 posted on 03/17/2013 6:56:56 PM PDT by sasquatch
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To: Ernest_at_the_Beach; ShadowAce; Las Vegas Dave; blam; Swordmaker

Thanks neverdem.

6 posted on 03/17/2013 8:43:43 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (Romney would have been worse, if you're a dumb ass.)
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To: neverdem

Great find, thanks!

7 posted on 03/17/2013 8:51:43 PM PDT by Graewoulf (Traitor John Roberts' Commune-Style Obama'care' violates U.S. Constitution AND Anti-Trust Law.)
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To: RockyTx

My intended post was similar: When the fool EU and other “greenie” nations figure out that windmills, “green cars”, and other high-power magnet users really do very little to “save the planet”, there will be a glut of Rare Earth metals on the market.

8 posted on 03/18/2013 5:36:49 PM PDT by AFPhys ((Praying for our troops, our citizens, that the Bible and Freedom become basis of the US law again))
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To: AFPhys

consider the Chevy Volt

the Volt has two electric motors

M1, the main motor, is an induction motor, no magnets.
M2 uses rare earths.

let me explain M2.
the Volt will go from 0 to 100, without changing gears.
there is a planetary gear set. M2 only spins at high car speed.

put in a 2 speed transmission... you don’t
need M2

btw, the Volt is a great car,
but has some controversies about it.

9 posted on 03/18/2013 7:04:20 PM PDT by RockyTx
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