Archive for the ‘Rare Earth Materials’ Category

Gene Green’s Mean, Clean, E-Waste Controlling Machine

Photo by georgehotelling. Some rights reserved.

Gene Green has earned his surname. The House Rep. has joined forces with Rep. Mike Thompson in an effort to pass the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (H.R. 2284), legislation that would put some much-needed restrictions on e-waste that flows out of the U.S. and into developing nations.

Specifically, the Act adds a new section – “Electronic Waste Export Restrictions” – to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (42 U.S.C. §6901 et seq.) that prohibits the export of certain discarded/used/broken/toxic electronics to countries such as China and India for salvage and recovery. Two GAO reports published in 2008 (here and here) determined that most of these countries “lack the capacity to safely handle and dispose of them.”

If passed, the Act would also establish a Rare Earth Materials Recycling Research Initiative “to assist in and coordinate the development of research in the recycling of rare earth materials found in electronic devices.” (The more we can recycle the better – pickins are slim!)

H.R. 2284 was introduced into Congress late last month, and while an earlier version of the bill had trouble gaining traction during the last Congressional session (it was introduced as H.R. 6252 on September 29, 2010 and referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, but never made it further than that), bipartisan support has grown for the bill this time around, and it is expected to pass. It’s even being backed by corporate big-wigs such as HP, Dell, and Apple.

DOE Seeks Input on Rare Earth Metals Strategy

Image by Michael Diggles. Some rights reserved.

Earlier this week the Department of Energy announced that it is seeking comments from the public on rare earth metals used in the energy sector.

The Request for Information solicits feedback from “industry, academia, research laboratories, government agencies, and other stakeholders on issues related to demand, supply chain structure, financing, R&D, energy technology transitions and recycling of rare earth metals and other materials.”

Input received from the RFI will aid the agency in updating its Critical Materials Strategy, a report released in December of 2010 that examined “the role of rare earth metals and other materials in the clean energy economy.”

What are rare earths? And what exactly is their role in the clean energy economy? Turns out these seventeen chemical elements – relatively plentiful in the Earth’s crust, but hard to find in concentrated and accessible forms – are used quite extensively in everyday products such as iPhones and camera lenses.

They are also used in the manufacture of clean energy technologies. DOE’s December report found that several of these technologies we as a nation are beginning to depend on (such as wind turbines, electric cars, and solar cells) use rare earth materials that are “at risk” for supply disruptions in the near future.

As we noted earlier, the US reportedly still depends on China for 90% of these raw materials, and China is tightening its grip by planning a substantial reduction in exports of rare earths. Blogmosaic reported on China’s “rare advantage” in this market a few months ago.

Luckily, the DOE plans to diversify global supply chains as part of their critical materials strategy. Even better, however, are the DOE’s pledges to extract and process these materials in an environmentally sound manner, and to put time into researching recycling processes for these materials.

Comments on the RFI will be accepted until May 24, 2011.

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