Rare-earth metals are critical to the high-tech society we live in as an essential component of mobile phones, computers and many other everyday devices. But increasing demand and limited global supply means we must urgently find a way to recover these metals efficiently from discarded products.
Rare-earth metals are currently mined or recovered via traditional e-waste recycling. But there are drawbacks, including high cost, environmental damage, pollution and risks to human safety. This is where our research comes in.
Our team in collaboration with the research centre Tecnalia in Spain has developed a way to use environmentally friendly chemicals to recover rare-earth metals. It involves a process called “electrodeposition”, in which a low electric current causes the metals to deposit on a desired surface.
This is important because if we roll out our process to scale, we can alleviate the pressure on global supply, and reduce our reliance on mining.
Rare-earth metals is the collective name for a group of 17 elements: 15 from the “lanthanides series” in the periodic table, along with the elements scandium and yttrium. These elements have unique catalytic, metallurgical, nuclear, electrical, magnetic and luminescent properties.
The term “rare” refers to their even, but scarce, distribution around the world, noted after they were first discovered in the late 18th century.
These minerals are critical components of electronic devices, and vital for many green technologies; they’re in magnets for wind power turbines and in batteries for hybrid-electric vehicles. In fact, up to 600 kilograms of rare-earth metals are required to operate just one wind turbine.
The annual demand for rare-earth metals doubled to 125,000 tonnes in 15 years, and the demand is projected to reach 315,000 tonnes in 2030, driven by increasing uptake in green technologies and advancing electronics. This is creating enormous pressure on global production.
Can’t we just mine more?
Rare-earth metals are currently extracted through mining, which comes with a number of downsides.
First, it’s costly and inefficient because extracting even a very small amount of rare earth metals requires large areas to be mined.
Second, the process can have enormous environmental impacts. Mining for rare earth minerals generates large volumes of toxic and radioactive material, due to the co-extraction of thorium and uranium — radioactive metals which can cause problems for the environment and human health.
Third, most mining for rare-earth metals occurs in China, which produces more than 70% of global supply. This raises concerns about long-term availability, particularly after China threatened to restrict its supply in 2019 during its trade war with the US.
Recycling is not enough
Through e-waste recycling, rare-earth metals can be recovered from electronic products such as mobile phones, laptops and electric vehicles batteries, once they reach the end of their life.
For example, recovering them from electric vehicle batteries involves traditional hydrometallurgical (corrosive media treatment) and pyrometallurgical (heat treatment) processes. But these have drawbacks.
Pyrometallurgy is energy-intensive, involving multiple stages that require high temperatures, around 1,000℃. It also emits pollutants such as carbon dioxide, dioxins and furans into the atmosphere.
Meanwhile, hydrometallurgy generates large volumes of corrosive waste, such as highly alkaline or acidic substances like sodium hydroxide or sulfuric acid.
Similar recovery processes are also applied to other energy storage technologies, such as lithium ion batteries.
Why our research is different
Given these challenges, we set out to find a sustainable method to recover rare-earth metals, using electrodeposition.
Electrodeposition is already used to recover other metals. In our case, we have designed an environmentally friendly composition based on ionic liquid (salt-based) systems.
We focused on recovering neodymium, an important rare-earth metal due to its outstanding magnetic properties, and in extremely high demand compared to other rare-earth metals. It’s used in electric motors in cars, mobile phones, wind turbines, hard disk drives and audio devices.
Ionic liquids are highly stable, which means it’s possible to recover neodymium without generating side products, which can affect the neodymium purity.
The novelty of our research using ionic liquids for electrodeposition is the presence of water in the mix, which improves the quantity of the final recovered neodymium metal.
Unlike previously reported methods, we can recover neodymium metal without using controlled atmosphere, and at working temperature lower than 100℃. These are key considerations to industrializing such a technology.
At this stage we have proof of concept at lab scale using a solution of ionic liquid with water, recovering neodymium in its most expensive metallic form in a few hours. We are currently looking at scaling up the process.
An important early step
In time, our method could avoid the need to mine for rare earth metals and minimises the generation of toxic and harmful waste. It also promises to help increase economic returns from e-waste.
Importantly, this method could be adapted to recover metals in other end-of-life applications, such as lithium ion batteries, as a 2019 report projected an 11% growth per annum in production in Europe.
Our research is an important early step towards establishing a clean and sustainable processing route for rare-earth metals, and alleviating the pressures on these critical elements.
This story originally appeared on The Conversation website and is republished with permission. To see the original, please click here.
Hydrogen fuel cell technology (HFCT) is expanding rapidly in many sectors.
For example, Volvo and Daimler have now partnered to speed up the transition away from diesel trucks and towards fuel cell electric vehicles in the European Union.
German carmaker BMW plans to unveil a limited series hydrogen fuel cell SUV in 2022, and French aerospace giant Airbus is investing heavily in mature fuel cell propulsion systems for the zero-emission aviation market.
Even hydrogen-powered trains are now in operation in Europe.
Well, get ready for a new twist.
According to a report in FreightWaves.com, Hypower Lab, a South Korean-based hydrogen company, in concert with Russian researchers, has announced it will work to commercialize a hydrogen fuel cell drone.
The R&D firm claims that using fuel cells can increase the flying time of a drone more than four times over traditional lithium-ion batteries. It also envisions the drones being used for parcel delivery, agriculture, freight and even passenger transportation.
Hypower is working with the fuel cell research center under the Institute of Problems of Chemical Physics (IPCP) of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), the report said.
Yury Dobrovlsky, who leads the IPCP RAS research center, said the combination of Russian hydrogen fuel cell technology and Korean artificial intelligence technology will lead to mass production of the drone at competitive prices.
“We will lead the popularization of drone aircraft in the delivery drone commercialization market that needs around 3 million commercial drones in 2025 by establishing the hydrogen fuel cell mass production system exclusively for drones in South Korea,” he said.
The companies will work to develop drones for multiple applications in both Russia and South Korea, the report said.
The drone, which has a flight time of over three hours, Hypower said, features a 12-liter fuel canister with 4.8 hours of battery life.
Hypower is not the only company working on hydrogen-powered drones.
Doosan Mobility Innovation (DMI) announced it too had successfully tested a hydrogen-powered drone in a humanitarian delivery, the report said.
In February, DMI said it would seek European Union approval for its hydrogen fuel cell powerpack for drones later this year. The pack provides 2.6 kilowatts of power for two hours of flight time.
DMI plans to sell its product in Europe, Korea, the US and China.
To help solve the problem of transporting hydrogen to drones, Intelligent Energy, a UK-based company, has developed a hydrogen transport cylinder — the IE-Soar — that features a high-pressure valve, the report said.
The valve is a key enabler and will make it simple for customers to get their full cylinders where they need them and ready to use, company officials said.
Currently, the legal transport of hydrogen in Europe and the US is limited.
“We know our fuel cells are the ideal choice for UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) operators requiring longer flight time,” Andy Kelly, head of UAV product development at Intelligent Energy, said.
“However, it is important that we support [these efforts] with the peripherals required to get operational. This valve is a key enabler and will make it simple for our customers to get their full cylinders where they need them and ready to use.”
Hydrogen is combined in the fuel cell with oxygen from the air to produce electricity; as long as hydrogen fuel is provided to the cell, the battery generates power.
This makes them valuable for long-range missions such as gathering aerial data or performing long-range deliveries and inspections, or for applications requiring larger drones and payloads.
Hydrogen batteries also work well in extreme cold weather, can be refueled in minutes and don’t emit greenhouse gasses like long-range, gas-powered drones do.
Leigh Sales has accused Scott Morrison of having a history of ‘blame shifting’ and ‘ducking responsibilities’ when it comes to Government scandals and blunders.
During a wide ranging interview on ABC’s 7.30 Report, Sales questioned the prime minister about his response to the 2019/20 bushfires, Brittany Higgins’ alleged rape and the bungled Covid vaccine rollout.
‘When it comes to taking responsibility, [Australians] have seen vaccine stumbles, not your fault, “it’s a supply issue”. Quarantine, “mostly a problem for states”. Bushfires, “I don’t hold a hose”. Brittany Higgins, “I was in the dark”,’ she said.
‘Covid deaths in aged care, “mostly the fault of state governments”. Christian Porter, “I don’t need to drill into the particulars”. Minister’s breaching standard, “I reject that anybody ever has”.
During an interview on ABC’s 7.30 Report, Sales questioned the prime minister about his response to the 2019/20 bushfires, Brittany Higgins’ alleged rape and the bungled Covid vaccine rollout
Mr Morrison defiantly responded: ‘That’s your narrative, Leigh, but that’s not one that I share’ when grilled over the Government’s scandals
‘Does it add up to a tendency to blame shift and duck responsibility wherever possible?’
Appearing to prove Sales’ point, Mr Morrison defiantly responded: ‘That’s your narrative, Leigh, but that’s not one that I share’.
Sales hit back, telling the PM she had simply ‘spelt out the facts’.
‘There will be an opportunity for Australians to express their view when the election finally comes,’ Mr Morrison said.
‘Right now I’m fighting the virus and keeping Australians in jobs and I’m seeking to provide the best possible support for their health in response to the COVID crisis. I’ll get on with my job and I’ll let you get on with yours.
‘At the height of the pandemic where we looked into the abyss, my government took action we saved lives and we saved livelihoods.’
He continued to spruik the Government’s commitment to mental health and ADF funding, action on floods in north Queensland, and disaster relief preparation.
Mr Morrison also said Tuesday night’s budget suggestion that the population would be fully vaccinated by the end of 2021 was merely a goal and not not a certainty.
‘There is a general assumption of a vaccination program likely to be in place and by the end of this year,’ he said,
Sales questioned the prime minister about his response to Brittany Higgins’ alleged rape in a minister’s office in Parliament House in 2019
‘But what that means is that there is an understanding that over the course of this year, the vaccination program will continue to roll out. And will reach as many Australians as we possibly can.’
When Sales questioned Mr Morrison on the slow rollout: ‘Does the buck stop with you on the success or otherwise of the vaccine rollout?’
‘Leigh, everything stops with me. I’m the Prime Minister at the end of the day,’’ he said.
‘The Budget rests on many things. It is important we get it done. The vaccination program, as it set out in the budget papers, assumes it’s likely this will be in place by the end of the year.
‘That could happen with two doses, one dose. It could be months either side of that and that will not have a material impact on what’s in this Budget and it would be a mistake to think it did.’
A striking property made from galvanised steel has been inspired by its bushfire-ravaged surroundings near the stunning Great Ocean Road in Victoria.
The property was built in the ‘vulnerable’ fire zone following the 2015 Christmas Day bushfires, and it is perched 100m above sea level at the top of a ridge in Wye River.
Architect Chris Connell told Daily Mail Australia the design was inspired by the modernist movement in architecture, and it seeks to fuse the traditional Australian fibro beach shack with post-WW1 Californian modernism.
A striking property named Cumulus House is made from galvanised steel has been built and inspired by its bushfire-ravaged surroundings in Victoria near the Great Ocean Road
The property sits among the ‘vulnerable’ flame zone perched 100m above sea level at the top of a ridge in Wye River, a small coastal village on the Great Ocean Road
The home features three bedrooms, two bathrooms, open-plan kitchen, a spacious living area and 180-degree balcony views
Behind the minimalistic steel facade lies a geometric rectangular floorplan with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, an open-plan kitchen, a spacious living area and 180-degree balcony views.
The elegantly arranged single-level home welcomes guests via a generous two-metre wide corridor with bedrooms to either side accessed by full height sliding doors that provide a diagonal view through the living spaces.
The 173sqm property, completed in mid-2020, is made from galvanised steel and fibre cement sheets to achieve the striking minimalistic design.
The total value of the property has not been disclosed.
Architect Chris Connell said the ‘stand-out’ features would undoubtedly be the four-sided fireplace and the expansive 12-metre wide north facing deck with ocean and valley views
The house acts as a blank canvas to ensure attention isn’t drawn away from the beautiful surroundings
The location would be ideal for couples and families alike, or those who are seeking privacy
Mr Connell said the ‘stand-out’ features included the four-sided fireplace and the 12-metre wide north facing deck with ocean and valley views.
The house has been designed as a ‘blank canvas’ to ensure attention isn’t drawn away from the beautiful surroundings.
‘The house is simple. It’s not covered with art. We’ve created a canvas here but the painting is actually out there,’ Mr Connell said.
Mr Connell has over 40 years’ experience in the architecture and interior design industry as well as the furniture industry
The outside deck area with a balcony overlooking the stunning landscape
Mr Connell said he and the team at Chris Connell Deign are more than happy with the final result. The total value of the property has not been disclosed
Mr Connell said he and the team at Chris Connell Deign were more than happy with the final result.
‘We like the austere, discrete elevation the house presents to the street, and the four-sided fireplace how it draws one from the entrance down the wide corridor to the main living area where the full width of the building and the view is revealed,’ he said.
Mr Connell has over 40 years’ experience in the architecture and interior design industry, as well as the furniture industry.
The world, Dr Johnson said, is in greater need of reminder than of instruction, so we take the opportunity to remind you that the best performing stocks are ones that benefit from inflation. By far the best performer among the sectoral exchange-traded funds during 2021 to date has been XOP (oil exploration and development, with […]