New research identifies opportunities that could boost critical materials supply, ensuring the demand for the material can be met in the future.
Oakdene Hollins released the report, A Sudy into the Feasibility of Protecting and Recovering Critical Raw Materials through Infrastructure Development in the South East of England. It found that although technology is available for recycling almost all the critical materials, the availability of them does not enable material recovery and, in some cases, hindered recovery.
Therefore, it has identified 10 opportunities which have a high potential to recover critical materials. These include:
· Aerospace: re-using landing gear and super-alloys in engines
· Hard disk drives: remove and recycle rare earth magnets
· Batteries: improve collections of portable Li-ion batteries to allow recovery of the cobalt and graphite content
· Flat screens: separate from general waste electronic and electrical equipment with pilot technologies for the medium term to recover the indium content
· Aluminium beverage cans: improve on-the-go collection to recycle magnesium.
Of the 14 critical metals, it was found that half – antimony, cobalt, indium, magnesium, platinum group metals, rare earth elements and tungsten – have a large potential for being recycled to reduce the demand for raw materials. But for the rest – beryllium, fluorspar, gallium, germanium, graphite, niobium and tantalum – it is unlikely that recovery and recycling will reduce demand for primary production.
The project was funded by the European Pathway to Zero Waste, the UK Environment Agency and the EU Life programme.
Oakdene Hollins project leader Adrian Chapman said: “We found that a good proportion of seven materials, including indium, tungsten and the rare earths, can be recycled. But growing demand forecast for their use in electric vehicles, wind turbines and solar photovoltaics means that only a portion of world supply can be met by recycling. This will help to ease pressure on primary production. However, for seven of the materials we analysed, recovery options are limited because the elements are either consumed during industrial processes or have highly dispersive uses.”
Tracking the supply chain of the materials, the research found that unrecovered critical materials typically get lost by ending up in waste slags, landfill or incineration when it enters European processing. In addition, many end-of-life products containing these metals end up outside the EU, excluded from the waste stream.
Oakdene Hollins found infrastructure in the south-east of England was focused mainly on collection, sorting and processing but materials were sent out of the region after that.
It has therefore recommended the installation of more sophisticated WEEE facilities and improved on-the-go recycling facilities for post-consumer waste. For post-industrial waste, the report recommends the implementation of more collection schemes, building facilities to recovery aerospace components and develop dismantling and recovery of wind turbines.
Overall recommendations for the UK and EU also include linking agents with the supply chain, design for disassembly and more sophisticated waste recovery targets.