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Recyclers put the spotlight on gallium

A consortium of six companies and institutions in the UK has been formed to find practical methods of recovering gallium when LED lamps are recycled.

Currently, gallium and gallium nitride used in the manufacture of LEDs is not recovered when they are recycled. If the new project is successful, a circular supply chain for gallium would be established, reducing the need for extracting raw gallium and increasing supply chain resilience.

It is also hoped that innovative solvent technologies can be developed with higher performance, safety and environmental sustainability standards.

The project, named Recovery of Gallium Ionic Liquid (or ReGAIL), is partly financed by Innovate UK, the Government’s innovation agency. The consortium comprises Recolight, HSSMI, S2S Electronics, Envaqua, EC Williams, and the Institute of Material Finishing.

Recolight ceo Nigel Harvey points out that LED lamps currently account for only 2% of the total tonnage of waste lamps collected in the UK. ‘This will rise significantly over the coming decade,’ he says. ‘That means the timing of ReGAIL is just right, giving us the opportunity to develop new methods to recover waste gallium before waste LEDs start to arise in large quantities.’

Gallium is also expected to replace silicon in critical power system semiconductors in the near future due to gallium’s comparatively superior characteristics including lower heat loss, and smaller space requirements. By using waste LED lamps as a source of gallium, ReGAIL creates a potential competitive advantage for the UK.

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