Rare Earth Elements Extraction from End-of-Life Fluorescent Light Bulb Powder

V. Jorjadze, G. Papadopoulos, A. Drees
IM Technologies, LLC,
United States

Keywords: rare earth, fluorescent light bulb, high temperature


IM Technologies, LLC proposes a new advanced manufacturing technique for the clean extraction of Rare Earth Elements (REEs) from the end-of-life fluorescent light bulb powder. Rare Earth Elements are a critical material to a wide range of technologies relevant to national defense, including avionics, sonar, night vision, GPS, and missile guidance systems. They also play an important role in many consumer products like cell phones, computer memories, TV screens, fluorescent bulbs, hybrid cars, lasers, and more. Despite their importance, the US has lost its leading role in mining and producing REEs decades ago to China, which now controls 80% of the world market representing over $7 Trillion of global GDP in end products. This dependence of the US on China for REEs is of significant concern to our economy and national security. The main reason for the dependence on China is the unacceptable toxic burden common chemical REE extraction methods put on the environment. IM Technologies has developed an environmentally friendly, high temperature, energy efficient reactor that allows to extract REEs. The method is ideally suited to help reestablish a domestic supply chain of REEs. As an additional benefit of the extraction process, REEs and other materials can be harvested in the form of powders with dimensions of submicron sizes. These metallic powders are increasingly relevant for innovative industrial applications due to their unique physical and chemical properties. This research project proposes to develop a production level prototype high temperature reactor for the energy efficient and environmentally benign extraction of rare earth elements from domestic recycled or end-of-life products and mineral ores, which are currently shipped to China for processing. This prototype will be based on IM Technologies’ proprietary micro-plasma discharge heating reactor technology, which allows to heat materials to as high as 3500C. At these high temperatures, most of materials liquefy or evaporate, allowing in essence to distill REE from the source material. The vapor will be captured in a cooling and condensation system. As a byproduct of the process, the REE can be harvested in powder form with sub millimeter size of particles. IM Technologies operates to concentrate its pilot operation on extracting Lanthanum, Cerium, Yttrium, Europium and Terbium from fluorescent light bulb (FLB) waste, which contains orders of magnitude more of these elements than mineral ore. Through our connection to the recycling companies, we have access to about 4500 metric tons of FLB waste, with an estimated value of over $100M for these Rare Earth Elements. In a pilot operation we estimate to process about 20 metric tons a year. We will concentrate on REE powder generation as our initial step of activity. Currently REEs powder available on the market is sized 44um and higher and priced at least in the range of $1000-$7000/100gr. Our submicron sized REE powder is expected to be valued higher. We will report on first results of the REE extraction in our test facility.