Rare-Earth Metal Recycling Needed to Power Green Tech

CNet (05/18/10); LaMonica, Martin

Recycling rates need to increase significantly to ensure the future supply of rare-earth and specialty metals, which are needed to power many green technology products, according to a United Nations Environment Program report. A UN committee has determined that the recycling rates for specialty metals are only about 1 percent, while the report estimates that recycling all metals is two to 10 times more energy-efficient than smelting metals from ores. The study indicates that the recycling rates of more common metals can range from 25 percent to 75 percent and are much lower in some developing nations. Both common and specialty metals may be increasingly extracted from existing structures and products such as buildings and electronic devices, and the report notes that there are currently about 530 pounds of copper currently above ground for every U.S. inhabitant. Scientists warned a congressional panel in March that the expansion of green technology industries will be strangled by limits over rare-earth metals from China, whose demand for such materials is growing. Demand for other rare-earth elements used in technology products, such as indium, also is on the rise, according to the UN report. “Boosting end-of-life recycling rates not only offers a path to enhancing those supplies and keeping metal prices down but can also generate new kinds of employment while ensuring the longevity of the mines and the stocks found in nature,” says UNEP executive director Achim Steiner.

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