With some of the most useful rare earths feared to be depleted within the next 50 years, scientists are racing against time to develop technologies to maximise their full potential as well as what could remain of them. Scientists are now specifically trying to establish a method to recycle rare earths from wastewater.
A group of Chinese researchers led by Zhang Lin, in a study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, said if successful, the process "could help alleviate economic and environmental pressures facing the REE industry."
The scientists manufactured inexpensive nano-Mg(OH)2 particles, which captured more than 85 per cent of the REEs that were diluted in wastewater in an initial experiment mimicking real-world conditions.
"Recycling REEs from wastewater not only saves rare earth resources and protects the environment, but also brings considerable economic benefits," the researchers state. "The pilot-scale experiment indicated that the self-supported flower-like nano-Mg(OH)2 had great potential to recycle REEs from industrial wastewater."
Contained in a collection of 17 chemical elements, rare earth minerals are used in various technological devices, including various superconductors, cellphones and other gadgets that have both commercial and military uses.
Various reports have stated that supplies of some of these precious elements, such as terbium, used in magnets and superconductors, and dysprosium, may only last another 30 years. It may even ran out earlier, as experts and analysts forecast that in 2015 alone, global demand has been broached to hit 185,000 tonnes.