Action needed on rare earth metal recycling

Posted on 10th March, 2011

A report by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) which has been submitted to the Government’s Science and Technology Committee,  has stated that unless quick action is taken to increase the recycling of rare earth metals (REM), the government’s plan to achieve 15 percent renewable energy by 2020 will be unattainable.

In the report, RICS highlighted that the 17 REMs are fundamental components in current renewable energy technologies – from solar panels, wind farms and hydroelectric turbines to possible energy conservation systems and nuclear applications.

However, with the Chinese government controlling around 97 percent of REM production and growing global shortages, a recycling program is badly needed to protect the future of renewable energy production.

The growing shortage of REMs could very soon have a considerable impact on the future of renewable energy. RICS says that many current green technologies are wholly reliant on these elements. A policy similar to the EU’s WEEE Directive on electronic equipment recovery is urgently needed, as failure to act could mean that future green energy projects become economically unfeasible.

The RICS’ report says we should be looking into how to recover what has already been harvested and is lying unused or being discarded as waste. These metals are extremely difficult to isolate and mine, yet we are allowing them to be disposed of after just one use.

RICS notes that REMs are found in obsolete electronics. To extract more of the metals, RICS is calling for the UK. to develop a comprehensive recycling program to meet the growing demand for the metals.

The organisation claims that no active commercial recycling programme currently exists in the UK.