Friday, May 27, 2011

Dramatically Raising Low Metal Recycling Rates Part of Path To Green Economy

Less than one-third of 60 metals studied have end-of-life recycling rate above 50%; 34 are under 1%. Among recommendations: Boost waste management in developing economies,end hoarding of old phones and other electronic products.

Smarter product designs, support for developing country waste management schemes, and encouraging developed country households not to 'squirrel away' old electronic goods in drawers and closets could help boost recycling of metals worldwide. According to a report released today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), recycling rates of metals are in many cases far lower than their potential for re-use.

Less than one-third of some 60 metals studied have an end-of-life recycling rate above 50 per cent and 34 elements are below 1 per cent recycling, yet many of them are crucial to clean technologies such as batteries for hybrid cars to the magnets in wind turbines, says the study. Recycling rates reported for the 60 elements studied:

More than 50 per cent recycling: 18 elements
1. Lead (main use: batteries)
2. Gold (main uses: jewelry, electronics)
3. Silver (main uses: electronics, industrial applications (catalysts, batteries, glass/mirrors), jewelry);
4. Aluminium (main uses: in construction and transportation)
5. Tin (main uses: cans and solders)
6. Copper (main uses: conducting electricity and heat)
7. Chromium (main use: stainless steels)
8. Nickel (main uses: stainless steels and super-alloys)
9. Niobium (main uses: high strength / low alloy steels and super-alloys)
10. Manganese (main use: steel)
11. Zinc (main uses: coating steel - galvanizing)
12. Iron (the basis and chief constituent of all ferrous metals)
13. Cobalt (main uses: super-alloys, catalysts, batteries)
14. Rhenium (a super-alloy component; main uses: gas turbines (perhaps 60% of use), and catalysts)
15. Titanium (main uses: paint, transportation)
16-18. Palladium, Platinum, Rhodium (main use of all three: auto catalysts)

25 to 50 per cent recycling: 3 elements
1. Magnesium (main uses: construction and transportation)
2. Molybdenum (main uses: high-performance stainless steels)
3. Iridium (main uses: electro-chemistry, crucibles for mono-crystal growing, spark plugs)

10 to 25 per cent recycling: 3 elements
1. Tungsten (main use: carbide cutting tools)
2. Ruthenium (main uses: electronics (hard disk drives), process catalysts / electrochemistry)
3. Cadmium (main uses: batteries (85%), pigments (10%))

1 to 10 per cent recycling: 2 elements
1. Mercury (largely being phased out; main remaining uses: chlorine / caustic soda production)
2. Antimony (main uses: flame retardant (65% of use), lead acid batteries (23%))

Less than 1 per cent recycling: 34 elements
1. Beryllium (main use: electronics)
2. Gallium (main use: electronics: ICs, LEDs, diodes, solar cells
3. Indium (main use: as a coating in flat-panel displays)
4. Selenium (main uses: manufacturing glass, manganese production, LEDs, photovoltaics, infrared optics)
5. Strontium (main uses: pyrotechnics, ferrite ceramic magnets for electronics)
6. Tantalum (main uses: in capacitors in electronics)
7. Germanium (main uses: in night vision (infrared) lenses (30%), PET catalysts (30%), solar cell concentrators, fiber optics)
8. Erbium (main use: fiber-optics)
9. Tellurium (main uses: steel additives, solar cells, thermo-electronics)
10. Hafnium (main uses: in nuclear reactors, and to a small degree in electronics)
11. Zirconium (main use: in nuclear reactors)
12. Thallium (occasional use in medical equipment)
13. Vanadium (main use: high strength-low alloy steels)
14. Arsenic (Arsenic metal is used in semiconductors (electronics, photovoltaics) and as an alloying element; Arsenic oxide is used in wood preservatives and glass manufacture)
15. Barium (main uses: drilling fluid (perhaps 80% of use); as a filler in plastic, paint and rubber (about 20%)
16. Bismuth (principal uses: metallurgical additive and alloy constituent)
17. Lithium (main use: in batteries)
18. Lanthanum (main use: in batteries)
19. Scandium (main uses: in aluminium alloys)
20. Yttrium (main use: as a phosphor)
21. Europium (main use: as a phosphor)
22. Ytterbium (main use: as a phosphor)
23. Lutetium (main use: a scintillator in computerized tomography)
24. Cerium (main use: as a catalyst)
25. Osmium (occasionally used as a catalyst, but has little industrial importance)
26. Thulium (no significant uses)
27. Praseodymium (main use: glass manufacturing and magnets)
28. Gadolinium (main use: in ceramics and magnets)
29. Boron (main uses: in glass, ceramics, magnets)
30-34: Neodymium, Samarium, Terbium, Dysprosium, Holmium (main use for all five: in magnets)

Source: UNEP

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