Electronic waste is proving to be a far richer source of valuable metals than any ore pulled from the ground, according to mining engineers at the University of British Columbia.
PhD student Amit Kumar and professor Maria Holuszko have succeeded in “mining” copper and silver from LED lights, and they are certain that rare earth metals such as europium, cerium and lutetium can also be recovered.
Light Emitting Diodes are gaining popularity as a highly efficient alternative to incandescent and fluorescent lights and represent an increasing proportion of e-waste and a potential source of metal pollution, said Holuszko.
“We believe that within three years there will be enough LEDs in the waste stream to make this viable,” said Kumar. “And if we don’t do it, they will all end up in the landfill.”
What makes the LED recycling process tricky is that lights are made of fused composite materials that blend plastics and metals with a variety of other compounds that cannot simply be pulled apart.
But if LEDs are ground up fine enough, the material isn’t much different from a high quality ore, though one with a variety of metals and industrial materials to be recovered.
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