Organic particles could make the recovery of raw materials more eco-friendly.
In the search for new ways to extract critical raw materials, research sometimes takes unusual paths, such as recycling from mining residues and wastewater. Scientists at Pennsylvania State University have now tested whether even tiny particles of organic material are suitable for extracting rare earths from electronic waste.
According to a statement from the university, the substance used includes finely shredded corncobs and cotton, basically kitchen waste that would otherwise end up in landfills and compost heaps. The microparticles produced from these materials in various sizes were then placed in a neodymium solution. In the process, the negatively charged organic particles bonded to the positively charged ions of the neodymium. The rare earth metal could thus be separated from the surrounding liquid, and further recycling was noticeably simplified, as lead researcher Amir Sheikhi explains.
Previous recycling methods required the use of acids, but the new recovery approach is much more environmentally friendly, Sheikhi adds. He hopes that in the future, the particles will also enable the selective separation of other rare earths as well as precious metals from shredded electronic waste.