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Fraunhofer improving the economics of LED recycling

Germany – Researchers at Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute have developed a new method to mechanically separate the light emitting diodes (LEDs) used in televisions and lamps. The breakthrough is said to be thanks to an electrohydraulic comminution process which allows the LED lamps to be broken into their constituent parts without destroying the LEDs themselves.

Shock waves created by electrical impulses in a water bath separate the individual components at predetermined break points; the components can then be recycled individually. Until now, recyclers have been unable to treat the increasing stream of LED products and have been stockpiling the material, observes Fraunhofer researcher Jörg Zimmermann.

‘It’s only a matter of time until recyclers will have to start processing LEDs,’ he adds. ‘Our main goal is to recover the valuable materials.’ To date, his team has conducted successful experiments with lamps. ‘In principle, this method also works for other sizes – for instance, with LEDs from television sets or automobile headlights,’ Zimmermann notes.

Fraunhofer researchers are currently testing to see whether the comminution process can be repeated until the desired materials have been separated. The project team has already demonstrated that the separation technique is a viable way to ‘improve the economics’ of LED lamp recycling, according to Zimmermann.

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