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KU Leuven chemists retrieve rare earth metals from lamps (Flanders Today)

May 28, 2017

“A team of chemists from KU Leuven have discovered a safer and more efficient way to recuperate and recycle rare earth metals from lamps.”

Chemists from the University of Leuven have developed a new method to retrieve the metals europium and yttrium from discarded fluorescent and energy-saving lamps. They used an ionic fluid that offers many advantages over traditional solvents, according to the research team.

The rare earth elements are used in red lamp phosphor, a substance that transforms ultraviolet light into red light. It is used, for example, in TV screens and in fluorescent lamps. Until now, recycling processes mostly focused on removing the poisonous mercury from discarded fluorescent and energy saving lamps because the recuperation of europium and yttrium was such a complex and expensive process.

Instead of using  an acid, the researchers worked with an organic solvent that consists of ions, or electrically charged particles. The solvent works very selectively: It can dissolve the red lamp phosphor only. The recuperated rare earth metals are immediately reusable and the ionic fluid itself can also be used again.

“With this method, recycling requires a lot less chemicals and energy,” explained professor Koen Binnemans. “It is a better alternative, both technically and ecologically, for traditional solvents.”

Author: Andy Furniere
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