The difficult search for the rare earths

Discussed at a meeting in Hamburg 200 Waste experts, how can we recycle the coveted metals. Pilot plant for 2014 planned.

Hamburg / Berlin. Heaven, Lanthanum, Neodymium, Ytterbium – for rare earth metals was interested up until the 1950s, hardly anyone. The last material from this group, Promethium, was only 1947 discovered. Only the electronic age made the 17 chemical elements into coveted commodities. Also for the chemical industry are rare earths essential. Cerium is in some catalysts, Lanthan in Batterien, Neodymium in computer hard drives and generators of wind turbines, Ytterbium in high-power lasers.

95 Percent of the requested supplies metals China. Although there are in Australia, Russia, the U.S. and in India large deposits, but the first process steps in the processing of rare earth will take place mainly in the Middle Kingdom. Since the country has limited its exports, the West is becoming clear, that a further reduction could have serious consequences – and that there will be even more depend on, sustainably deal with the raw materials.

The recycling puts this country but still in its infancy, as a meeting of 200 Waste experts showed, which met on Tuesday and Wednesday in Hamburg. Nor have no recycling system established, said Prof. Martin Faulstich of the Technical University of Clausthal. The reason: Notwithstanding the rise in commodity prices had previously been rare earths too cheap, to impact significantly on product prices. A laptop made the commodities from two to ten percent of the production costs. For industry it had therefore not been paid, to invest in recycling systems.

But in view of the future is now apparently held a rethink, especially is increasingly clear, what treasures lie dormant in the electrical. Experts of the Öko-Institut in Freiburg estimate, that only in the 2010 PC sold in Germany around 15 Tons of estimated because of its magnetic properties were processed neodymium and praseodymium two tons. It is recycled so far: nothing. After all, would 25 Percent of the built-in electronics precious metals gold, Silver and palladium recovered, so die Experten.

The latter is done, because of the discarded electrical appliances in Germany estimates that at least half of the land properly at recycling centers. Specialized companies then dismantle the scrap into its component parts. Another part of the waste reaches the other hand abroad. And again throw the Germans smartphones, Hair dryers and electric toothbrushes in the residual waste, although this is forbidden. So it comes, besides the noble metals, Require, Copper and aluminum end up in incinerators Rare Earth and end up as bottom ash, where they baked by a bath in cold water to slag-like crumbs. In this form they are worthless – more.

Under the direction of the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing in Berlin researchers nationwide to methods, with which metals are to be more mountains than previously – and, indeed, rare earths. To this end, the Berlin company Tartech in Damsdorf near Hamburg in probably April 2014 a 2,5 Million euro pilot plant into operation, by the City of Hamburg, another partner in the project, with 40.000 Tonnes of slag is to be supplied. The BSR will be there to test slag.

So far, out of a barrel would slag recovered about ten kilograms of aluminum and copper, explained Dr. Stefan Lubben by the Sanitation. In this conventional method magnets and eddy current draw from the ashes crowd ferrous and non-ferrous metals. This works up to 15 Millimeter small slag particles. In the future, should the proportion of the recovered metal can be doubled, by particles also be included, which are smaller than a millimeter. Should be coming out 20 Kilograms of metal per tonne of slag instead of ten. This does not seem much. A mistake, I Lübben. One must look at the entire dimension: “Arise in Hamburg alone per year 200.000 Tons of slag, nationwide fall 4,8 Million tonnes of. So it is worth well, If we win one percent more metal. It's about many millions of euros.”

To make this possible, a new method, wants to test the Tartech in the pilot plant near Hamburg. Here, the ash particles at a speed of up to 1000 hurled km / h on a rotor, making the jump mineral buildup. Would be left of the metallic core. When you get out of the mass of these particles turn the iron- and non-ferrous metals pull out, should remain rare. These lie in the slag, according to estimates, albeit in a concentration of about 25 vor ppm (parts per million, also 25 one million particles), But in a nationwide or international use is worth the technology, Tartechs explained Chief Engineer Claus Gronholz. All that is actually working as intended, is probably only from 2016 fixed.

Considerably longer it will, to the rare earth can be recovered from neodymium magnet for wind power generators. Prof.. Jörg Woidasky told by Pforzheim University at the meeting in Hamburg, that had already been tested, how about the fiber reinforced plastics from huge wind turbines shred and then were re-use as an admixture of concrete. But neodymium? “This research is being conducted, but nothing more.”

An unexpected contribution to solving the shortage could come from Saxony. Ende Januar stellte dort die Seltenerden Storkwitz AG, a subsidiary of Deutsche Rohstoff, the report an Australian consulting firm before. Thus might the top of a reservoir under the district Storkwitz up in 600 Meters 20.100 Tons rare earth oxides be. Estimates in the 1980s had 38.000 Tons predicted; to a reduction but it was not then come. Currently, the company reviews, at what cost to promote the raw materials were – whether and at greater depths more stores. The aim was, at least 80.000 Rare earth oxides demonstrate tons.


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