Push to Recycle Rare Earths

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"Large REE consumers seek new ways to cut costs, diversify supply."

I've been examining the rare earth elements (REEs) critical to a host of cleantech applications in effort to produce an accurate forecast of REE demand from the cleantech industry.

Several rare earth metals with unique chemical and physical properties are an important part of the material composites crucial for prominent clean technology applications, including electric vehicles, fuel cells, wind turbines and energy-efficient lighting.

China currently accounts for 97% of rare earth production. In July, Beijing introduced new export quotas aimed at consolidating its fractured mining industry. Rare earth prices have subsequently skyrocketed and, as a consequence, many large-scale consumers of REEs are examining new ways to reduce their REE expenditure and diversify their supply sources away from China.

One way to achieve this is through greater investment in REE recovery and recycling processes. While most companies are keeping their developments and technologies under wraps, there have been several announcements related to rare earth recycling since July.

In October, Japan's Shin-Etsu Chemical announced plans to extract rare earths from discarded air conditioners and recycle them in magnets, starting this year. Reuters reports that Shin-Etsu is negotiating with a number of electronic appliance retailers to build a recovery system and the company will be the first in Japan to collect and recycle REEs from appliances.

In December, Hitachi announced that it had developed technologies for recycling rare earth magnets from hard disk drive motors and air conditions and other compressors.

In May, Tokyo-based chemical maker Showa Denko KK opened a plant in Vietnam to begin recycling dysprosium and didymium metal used to make magnetic alloys.

Look out for further developments in recycling technologies as large rare earth consumers look to offset the increased costs associated with securing new supplies.

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