Science Friday: How To Recycle Rare Earth Elements

Photo of Ikenna Nlebedium
Ikenna Nlebedium working with the hard drive shredder, from which his team can extract rare earth metals.

Rare earth elements are a group of 17 metals used in a wide range of things that make modern life possible, including batteries, magnets, LED light bulbs, phone screens, and catalytic converters.

These elements are essential to a green economy because they are integral to many technologies designed to have low environmental impact. However, mining these metals is a dirty, complex, and costly process. And as the world transitions towards more clean energy production, the demand for them will continue to grow.

One possible solution is to recycle rare earth elements when they’re discarded in electronics waste. On stage in Ames, Iowa, Ira Flatow talks with Dr. Ikenna Nlebedim and Dr. Denis Prodius, two materials scientists from the Critical Materials Institute at the Ames National Laboratory who have developed a new acid-free method to recycle rare earth metals found in magnets.

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