Today, the rare metals in your computer, smartphone and other products aren't recycled. But they’ll be needed to build the electronics you’ll want tomorrow. “In a newly started research project, we're looking at methods for improving the supply of these metals,” says Christer Forsgren, who heads environmental and technological operations at the Stena Metall Group. “It's also important that people deposit their electronic devices for recycling instead of throwing them in the trash.”
Have you ever heard of lithium, neodymium, gallium and germanium? These are found in the components used in hybrid electric cars, wind power turbines, solar cells, smartphones, computers and other electronics. A global shortage of these metals and rare earth metals has arisen in just a few short years.
Half of all small electronic devices are incinerated
The EU has issued a warning that the short supply of rare metals can have negative consequences for industry and even hinder the development of new, green technologies, such as wind power.
“We need the materials,” says Christer Forsgren. “Old smartphones and other small electronic devices are typically put away in dresser drawers, or even worse, thrown out with the trash and incinerated, and when that happens the metals are gone for good.”
In northern Europe, the metals in half of all small electronic devices go to waste, either because the devices are thrown out with the trash or end up in dresser drawers and attics.
Research for new recycling methods
“We obviously want access to the same kinds of products we have today in the future as well,” says Christer Forsgren. “But this will require recycling of rare metals so that we’ll have the materials to build them.” In a newly started research project, Stena is looking for new solutions for recycling rare metals from the products we use every day. One project involves recycling lithium, cobalt and copper from the lithium-ion batteries that power our increasingly common hybrid electric cars. Another project focuses on recycling neodymium, which is used for example, in the strong magnets in electric motors for hybrid electric cars.
Rare metals are concentrated in limited and local deposits around the world. These metals will be more difficult and expensive to extract from the Earth's crust in the future.
“We have to go through our dresser drawers and attics, and recycle whatever isn’t being used,” says Christer Forsgren. “Increased recycling and research go hand in hand with ensuring the supply of rare metals.”
Press images and graphics:
Head of Technology and Environmental
Science at Stena Metall
Phone: +46 10 445 20 19