Yale researchers call for international action on recycling of rare earth metals


An international policy is needed for recycling scarce speciality metals that are critical in the production of consumer goods, according to Yale scientists.

Speciality metals, which include rare earth elements such as indium, gallium and germanium, account for more than 30 of the 60 metals in the periodic table.


Because these metals are used in tiny amounts in everything from solar cells to computer chips, recovery can be so technologically and economically challenging that the attempt is seldom made.

Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies research scientist Barbara Reck said: “A recycling rate of zero for speciality metals is alarming when we consider that their use is growing quickly.

“Metals are infinitely recyclable in principle, but in practice recycling is often inefficient or essentially nonexistent because of limits imposed by social behaviour, product design, recycling technologies and the thermodynamics of separation.”

Author of the report Challenges in Metal Recycling Thomas Graedel added: “Depending on the metal and the form of the scrap, recycling can save as much as a factor of 10 or 20 in energy consumption. The situation clearly calls for international policy initiatives to minimise the seemingly bizarre situation of spending large amounts of technology, time, energy and money to acquire scarce metals from the mines and then throwing them away after a single use.”