We all know about rare Earth elements. They’ve got ridiculous names likeytterbium and praseodymium, and they’re found in nearly every piece of tech you own. Despite their value, we do a horrid job recycling them. But chemists are now hoping to change that.
As we continue to mine our ever-dwindling supply of rare Earths, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are trying to figure out how we can reduce our dependency on environmentally destructive extraction processes. And they seem to be making progress. A new study published in the journal Angewandte Chemie, International Edition describes a process that could enable us to efficiently recycle neodymium and dysprosium, two elements that comprise the magnets found in everything from electric motors and generators to headphones and hard drives.
Mining and refining rare Earth metal is a pretty messy business. One has to dissolve large pieces of natural minerals, using lots of acids in the process, thus making lots of toxic chemicals and toxics. The new process is long and boring, and I will not go over the exact steps. However, it is a step in the right direction, and looking at how reliant we are on electronics this may be the start of something incredibly useful.