Rare earth metals are in high demand with the growth of consumer electronic industries. ‘Future market Insights’ research believes the global market for rare earth metals of US $3 billion will more than double to US$7.3 billion by 2026. Similarly, this represents a compound annual growth rate of 8.5%.

Interestingly, China has the largest natural deposits of rare earths. Domestically it consumes 105,000 tonnes per year. Japan consumes 25,000 tonnes, followed by the US on 20,000 tonnes and Europe 7,000 tonnes.

Smartphones and tablets are among the major application areas for rare earth metals.  Global sales of these products are $155 million per annum.   Consumer electronic sales were up 6% in 2018 year on year. Neodynium probably makes up almost 40% of rare earth demand.  As a result of this sales  growth, demand for rare earth metals, such as Neodynium, is increasing significantly.

Furthermore, research reveals significant improvements in recycling of rare earth materials. Above all, this will assist in overcoming some of the global supply issues. As a result, increased levels of recycling will reduce environmental degradation from the mining and processing of such metals.

 New Chemistry

Under 5% of ‘rare earths’ are recycled from end-of-life devices. New research in Japan hopes to boost recycling rates through ‘chelation chemistry’ that it hopes will replace acids with organic compounds to better recover the metals. A chelator compound, known as amino-polycarboxylate. is used to remove toxic metals from solid waste. Recent tests show extraction rates of between 53 and 85% of ‘rare earths’ from spent fluorescent lamps.

The Recycal group has embarked on a major investment in e-waste with the creation of a new entity called ‘eco e-waste’.  A specialist e-waste recycling company, it will focus on recycling of electronic products including old lap tops computers, mobile phones and televisions.

Australia’s e-waste will increase to over 223,000 tonnes in 2023-24.  E-waste is growing three times faster than general municipal waste in Australia, due to increased technology trends, reduced product lifespan and consumer demand for new products.

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