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

EPA Contract Number: EPD15011
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: Richards, April
Phase: II
Project Period: November 1, 2014 through October 31, 2016
Project Amount: $300,000
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase II (2014) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) , SBIR - Innovation in Manufacturing

Description:

The objective of this Phase II research is the development of an innovative high speed sorting system to recover materials containing rare earth elements (REEs) found in electronic waste (e-waste) streams using x-ray technology.  Rare earth materials are critical to the manufacturing and development of clean energy technologies.  Due to increasing global demand for clean energy technologies a reliable supply of REEs is needed.  Recovery of rare earth materials from e-waste has enormous potential to provide a steady supply of REEs and generate significant revenue for the e-waste recycler.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

NRT’s market analysis identified dysprosium (Dy) and neodymium (Nd) as valuable elements significant to rare earth recycling. Evaluation of the e-waste stream revealed that the majority of these rare earth elements are contained in magnets within hard disk drives. Most e-waste recycling processes are focused on the recovery of precious metals in the e-waste stream with the hard drives being destroyed for data security. As a result the rare earth magnets are destroyed and discarded. Significant effort was exerted toward identification of an approach for material handling of the magnets to prevent their destruction and allow efficient identification and sorting.

NRT investigated the use of both x-ray fluorescence (XRF) and differential x-ray transmission (DXRT) coupled with high speed pneumatic ejection technology for identification and sorting of rare earth materials in the e-waste recycling stream. A prototype DXRT system has been design and constructed which is expected to have significant impact within the e-waste recycling industry.

Conclusions:

This Phase I and Phase II funding has led to the development of a technology suitable for the identification and sorting of rare earth materials within an e-waste recycle stream. This technology is expected to have significant impact within the e-waste recycling industry as it will recover previously discarded and highly valuable rare earth elements.

Supplemental Keywords:

lanthanides, green technology, critical materials, metals sorting, x-ray identification


SBIR Phase I:

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