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US universities honoured for sustainable innovation

United States – The University of Houston has won the US$ 100 000 top award in the US First Look West (FLoW) competition for developing a scalable process that extracts the rare earths neodymium and dysprosium from post-consumer hard drive magnets.

The combined neodymium and dysprosium market was worth over US$ 4 billion in 2012 and is expected to grow to US$ 8 billion by 2018, says the university’s REEcycle team. The project members hope the process will make the US ‘less dependent on unpredictable foreign sources’ like China – currently still the world’s largest exporter of rare earth elements.

The combined neodymium and dysprosium market was worth over US$ 4 billion in 2012 and is expected to grow to US$ 8 billion by 2018, says the university′s REEcycle team. The project members hope the process will make the US ′less dependent on unpredictable foreign sources′ like China – currently still the world′s largest exporter of rare earth elements.

The third annual staging of the FLoW competition saw the University of California San Diego take second place, worth US$ 40 000, for a novel manufacturing method for the ′wonder material′ graphene. The researchers say graphene is 200 times stronger than steel and, for its weight, is the most conductive material known. This could open up applications in ′thin film′ solar panels and television screens.

FLoW, covering the six western states of the USA is overseen by the California Institute of Technology′s Resnick Sustainability Institute. The winning university teams from six regions across the country now move forward to a national competition in Washington under the auspices of the US Department of Energy, to be held next week.

For more information, visit: www.flow.caltech.edu

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