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New recycling method for rare earth metals

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IMC Krems is working on a new recycling method for rare earth elements which does not have a negative impact on the environment.

IMC FH Krems © Martin Huleja ©IMC FH Krems © Martin Huleja

Although their name might suggest otherwise, rare earths are actually not that rare- at least from a geological point of view. Neither is their use. They are vital for electronic devices such as smartphones, computers or energy-efficient light bulbs and plenty of other technologies. The mining process, however, is inefficient and energy-intensive. Their availability is therefore limited and prices on the world market continue to rise. Given the ongoing technological progress, it is clear that supply will become scarce, which might jeopardise the development of future technologies. Recycling these elements would certainly help address some of these issues. Unfortunately, an eco-friendly method to do so has not been found yet. 

The department of life sciences at IMC Krems is now working on a new environmentally friendly and sustainable recycling method for these special metals, using microorganisms. The pioneer project focuses on recycling rare earth elements from electronic waste thanks to bacteria and algae. This innovative method would allow companies not only to dispose of metal waste in a sustainable way, but also to recycle and reuse it.

This research is being carried out within the framework of the international REEagain project, which was launched in 2018 and which is financed by the European Regional Development Fund with more than €1m. IMC Krems has the lead on the project. Other partners include the Institute of Microbiology at the Czech Academy of Sciences (ALGATECH), Karl Landsteiner University of Health Sciences and Danube University Krems.

Source: IMC FH Krems
Photo: IMC FH Krems © Martin Huleja

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