Extraction of Rare Earth Elements from Electronic Waste in an Eco-Friendly Manner

Because of rising industrial demand for neodymium, a rare earth metal needed to make magnets for electronic devices, the focus has shifted to recycling electronic trash (e-waste), such as abandoned computers and printed circuit boards.

This is a smart step because it not only aids in the recycling of e-waste, but it also addresses the scarcity of neodymium in nature.

Separating precious elements from other minerals and components contained in e-waste, on the other hand, is a difficult task. Due to the use of very acidic chemicals to extract the elements, current rare earth element recycling procedures are harmful to the environment.

So Penn State University researchers have devised a method for separating neodymium from paper, cotton, and pulp that employs nanotechnology.

Cellulose nanoparticles produced from cellulose fibrils bind to neodymium ions selectively, isolating them from other ions such as iron, calcium, and sodium. Negatively charged nanoparticles were used to attract the positively charged neodymium ions.

"The technique is effective in terms of removal capacity, selectivity, and speed," said Amir Sheikhi, a Penn State University assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering. "By carefully eliminating the element from certain of the studied contaminants, it may isolate neodymium in seconds."

Because of the usage of cellulose, he claims, the technique is also sustainable, cost-effective, and environmentally benign, while minimising the negative effects of open-pit mining.

The researchers hope to employ a cellulose-based adsorption technique to recover rare earth elements such as neodymium from industrial wastewater, mining tailings, and unused permanent magnets in the future.

Sheikhi stated, "This contribution to rare earth recycling will have a strategic and economically viable impact on various businesses." "The more neodymium we recycle, the more electric and hybrid automobiles, as well as wind turbines, we can produce, putting less impact on the environment."