Urban Mining-The Recycling of Rare Earth Elements
Did you know that very few rare earth elements (REE) are recycled? Despite REEs being integral to many modern-day technologies, only 1% are recycled from end products. This process of recovering rare earth elements is called urban mining. We’ll tell you all you need to know about urban mining, how REEs are recycled, and the potential for this market.
The Process of Urban Mining
Fun Fact: Americans throw away 416,000 cell phones every day or 151.8 million per year. You may be wondering what happens to all these old cell phones? When these items are disposed of, rare earth elements can be extracted and reused through the process of urban mining.
Other everyday products such as smartphones, digital cameras, headphones, speakers, electric car motors, and much more contain rare earth elements that can be extracted. Overall, urban mining promotes a greener, more sustainable future for the REE industry.
There are multiple methods to recycle rare earth elements like neodymium. One method of urban mining is through shredding and heating e-waste. Waste is shredded and loaded into furnaces with temperatures of up to 1100 degrees Celsisus. The high heat melts down these materials and chemical processing is undertaken to refine the product further. For the disposal of cellphones, the process of electrolysis, where an electric current causes a chemical change, can convert old cell phones into copper.
The Potential of Urban Mining
Currently, China produces over 90 percent of the earth’s rare earth elements but sets strict limitations and regulations on exporting these metals for rare earth magnet manufacturing. Because of this, researchers have been exploring ways to recycle and repurpose these materials outside of China to make them more accessible and readily available. Urban mining is often overlooked and can help the United States tackle the Chinese dominance of rare earth elements, according to an article by Forbes. Since rare earth elements are used in everything, there is a huge supply of recyclable materials, which means this industry has a lot of potential.
Not only would urban mining limit the mining of rare earths overseas, but it also provides a green way to dispose of these elements and recycle them since waste is treated as a resource. With society becoming more and more focused on sustainability, urban mining could reduce energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and other negative environmental effects.
How to Dispose of your Apex Neodymium and Cobalt Magnets
You may be asking yourself how does my company recycle our rare earths, such as neodymium and cobalt magnets? Since urban mining is not a scalable process for most businesses, there are other ways to recycle rare earths, including neodymium and cobalt.
Neodymium and samarium cobalt magnets are powerful magnets that can be dangerous to handle. Because of this, you should never dispose of these rare earth magnets without thermally demagnetizing them. You can thermally demagnetize these magnets by bringing them to their Curie point: the temperature above which certain material loses their magnetic properties. Neodymium magnets begin to lose their properties if heated about 176 degrees Fahrenheit.
You can also use a demagnetizing tool, which passes an alternating current through the magnetic object such as Apex’s small screwdriver and precision tool demagnetizers. If you aren’t able to demagnetize, you should use shielding – iron or steel sheets – to line the inside of some type of container. Then, you can dispose of the entire container. Doing so will keep your magnets from sticking to other ferrous metals in the landfill.
While ceramic magnets are much easier to dispose of because they are not as powerful as rare earth magnets, you should follow the same suggestions described above – demagnetize, and otherwise, shield magnets before disposing of them.
At Apex Magnets, we value safety, quality, and customer service. If you are a business looking to replenish your stock of neodymium, samarium-cobalt, or ceramic-ferrite magnets, visit our custom magnet request form, which is especially helpful if you would like to customize your order to a particular size or shape we do not keep in stock.