Things that we use every day, like cell phones, computers, and other consumer electronics, actually contain a wide variety of valuable metals, such as europium, dysprosium, neodymium, terbium, and yttrium. When these electronics reach the end of their useful life, these metals are often lost to landfills if they're not properly recycled. Rather than let these useful materials go to waste, the U.S. Department of Energy is now working to recover rare earth elements
from used consumer products, using methods employed in nuclear fuel reprocessing. Here are some other examples of ways to get at valuable metals.
- Researchers at Murdoch University have developed a faster and cheaper microfluidics approach to recover precious metals like platinum and palladium from spent automotive catalyst. The new technique could also be used for the purification of rare earth elements. [url]
- British company Metalysis is hoping to isolate useful metals like tantalum, titanium, neodymium, tungsten, and vanadium from their oxides via electrolysis in molten salt at 1,000 degrees Celsius. The electrolysis is done directly on the powdered oxide, which acts as the cathode and is gradually transformed from the oxide to the metal. [url]
- Companies like Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries have ambitious plans to mine asteroids for useful metals (and water). Planetary Resources plans to build a couple of low-cost robotic prospecting spacecraft that can survey, intercept, and process asteroids, and then deliver the resources directly to where they're needed. DSI has similar plans, but it's also developing a 3D printer ("Microgravity Foundry") that will be able to create high-quality metal components in orbit. [url]
If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post