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Urban mining of rare earth metals

Urban mining of rare earth metals

Tokyo (SCCIJ) – A spin-off company of the Paul Scherer Institute in Switzerland has started a recycling project for extracting rare earth metals from waste. The award-winning urban mining process will benefit the circular economy. So far, mainly gold, silver, and copper are recycled. But with the spread of electric batteries, new technologies are needed for the extraction of rare earth metals which have become critical industrial materials.

Urban mining of rare earth metals

A Swiss start-up has developed a technology for the urban mining of rare earth metals (generic picture by Pixabay CC0).

Lack of recycling technologies

E-waste is one of the fastest-growing waste streams in the world and poses significant disposal problems. The lack of efficient recycling technology has led to a net loss of critical metals on which European industry is currently highly dependent. The recovery of these valuable metals from waste is called urban mining.

CECO-MET, a project launched by a spin-off company of the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) in Aargau, wants to achieve such urban mining for rare earth metals. CECO-MET is the abbreviation for “Circular ECOnomy in practice by recycling critical METals”. The name was chosen chemist Dr. Ajay Patil, a Paul Scherer Institute (PSI) Founder Fellow and current scientific collaborator at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne EPFL.

Years of research

His patented technology is designed to improve recycling, promote responsible consumption, and make towns and cities more sustainable by introducing a circular-economy approach through “urban mining”. Building on years of research at PSI and EPFL, Patil’s recycling technology is based on an innovative combination of liquid-liquid extraction and specialized wet chemistry of rare earth metals.

CECO-MET was awarded 85,000 Swiss Francs as one of six winners of the 2020 Switzerland Innovation Tech4Impact Initiative, a national startup competition. This first edition of the nationwide “Switzerland Innovation Tech4Impact” start-up competition attracted 98 applications from Switzerland’s cutting-edge research and innovation ecosystem.

Patil’s aims to use this monetary award to develop a complete pilot system for the recycling of rare earth metals such as neodymium and dysprosium, both of which are highly relevant raw material elements for clean energy and e-mobility-industry.

Public support

The successful implementation of CECO-MET will lead to the creation of REMRETEch. This new start-up will further develop the award-winning process for the benefit of the circular economy to the stage of market maturity and be located at the Swiss Innovation Park Innovaare in Villigen.

“We are very grateful to Switzerland Innovation for supporting our activities to promote recycling management and sustainability in practice,” said Patil. “We are very passionate and proud to develop this hardware- and process-based solution for sustainable consumption and the production of critical raw materials. We recycle the key drivers of our technological and futuristic economy.”

Text: SCCIJ partly with material of Switzerland Innovation Park Innovaare/Villigen; Picture: Rwanda Green Fund/flickr CC BY-ND 2.0

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