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Rare earth recycling breakthrough in China

China – Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences have discovered a way to recycle rare earth elements from wastewater, according to their paper in the ‘€˜ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces’€™ journal. Whereas previous projects in this area have failed owing to the complexity of recovery and high levels of expense, the new method is said to bring ‘considerable economic benefits’.

The researchers based their project on the fact that a nanomaterial known as nano-magnesium hydroxide is capable of removing a proportion of metals and dyes from wastewater. The team successfully analysed the nanomaterial to produce relatively inexpensive flower-shaped nanoparticles under a high-powered microscope.

By conducting lab tests that replicated real-world conditions, the researchers found that more than 99% of the rare earth metals were diluted in the wastewater samples – with no less than 85% of them being ‘captured’ by their unique nanoparticles.

Additional analysis proved that the rare earth elements could be easily collected on the surface as metal hydroxide nanoparticles. This pilot-scale breakthrough will provide ‘a good example’ for the recycling of increasingly popular rare earth elements in practical industrial applications, according to the scientists.

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