Final Report: Automated Identification and Sorting of Rare Earth Elements in an E-Waste Recycling Stream

EPA Contract Number: EPD13036
Title: Automated Identification and Sorting of Rare Earth Elements in an E-Waste Recycling Stream
Investigators: Rich, John T.
Small Business: National Recovery Technologies Inc.
EPA Contact: Manager, SBIR Program
Phase: I
Project Period: June 17, 2013 through December 16, 2013
Project Amount: $79,968
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (2013) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) , SBIR - Innovation in Manufacturing

Description:

The objective of the Phase I research project is to determine the feasibility of utilizing advanced X-ray detection techniques for the high-speed identification and sorting of materials containing rare earth elements in the electronic waste (e-waste) stream.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

The initial thrust of the Phase I research was directed toward evaluating the e-waste stream. National Recovery Technologies, Inc. found that almost all of the rare earth elements in the e-waste stream were contained within hard disk drives. Significant effort was exerted toward identification of an approach to material handling of the magnets inside the hard disk drives. Further effort was directed toward evaluating the ability to identify the presence of rare earth elements. Special attention was directed toward identification of dysprosium, as this valuable material was determined to be of significance for rare earth element recycling. Feasibility was established, and initial design considerations were investigated. Three different scenarios were evaluated for economic feasibility. High-speed automated sorting was determined to be very attractive, with an anticipated payback time of less than 6 months.

Conclusions:

The Phase I research program has led to the conclusion that innovative high-speed X-ray detection technology coupled with high speed pneumatic sorting technologies can be developed for rare earth element sorting in e-waste recycling applications. The new technology will allow for increased recovery of the precious rare earth metals and increase the value of the recovered e-waste materials. The new technology is expected to provide a stream rich in rare earth materials, which is an excellent source for urban mining operations.

Supplemental Keywords:

rare earth elements, sort, e-waste, contaminant

SBIR Phase II:

Automated Identification and Sorting of Rare Earth Elements in an E-waste Recycling Stream  | Final Report