Are we running out of rare metals? Lille Region has a solution
15 Jul 2014 | A region on the move, Advanced Materials
With natural deposits of rare earths and strategic metals on their way to depletion, recycling is becoming more important by the day. Building on a long tradition of metalworking, Lille Region is strengthening its position in this critical market.
Are natural deposits of rare metals approaching depletion?
Imagine a world without smart phones, flat screens, optical fiber, or even airplanes and cars. Impossible? Science fiction? Think again!
All of these modern technologies depend on the availability of selected rare earths and strategic metals, including zinc, indium, tantalum, and germanium—essential raw materials. And in each case, natural deposits are becoming scarce. Under sustainable economic conditions, the latest projections suggest that mined zinc and indium will have disappeared by 2025, and tantalum by 2038.
To preserve our tech-drive lifestyle, we must turn to “urban mines” to source future supplies of these strategic metals. Enter recycling, a field where Lille Region is the emerging European leader.
Lille Region drives Europe
Building on a long history in metalworking and allied industries, Lille Region has made metal recycling a top priority. By 2015, the region plans to be Europe's largest producer of recycled strategic metals and rare earths.
The Team² competitiveness cluster—the only one in France to focus on metals recycling—is currently restructuring the industry and forging a fast-growing ecosystem. The sector has some 20 plants representing 500 jobs (with 100 more to be created in the next two years alone) backed by labs including the Lille School of Chemistry that employ dozens of technicians and engineers.
“Crushed cars contain around 200 g of gold per metric ton, compared with 1 g per metric ton for the ore from a typical Australian mine,” says Christian Thomas, President of Team² and founder of Terra Nova, one of Europe's most advanced “urban mines”. The plant is located in Isbergues, between Lille and the Channel, and specializes in the recovery of rare metals from printed circuit boards. Southwest of Lille, Recytech at Fouquières-lès-Lens employs 48 people and recovers 150 metric tons of zinc oxide a day from electric arc furnace waste. And in Auby, the French subsidiary of smelter Nyrstar, produces 172,000 metric tons of zinc a year, recycled primarily from dust produced by Recytech's giant furnace. Nyrstar's Auby plant employs 290 and produces 40 metric tons of indium a year, making it Europe's largest recycler of this strategic metal.
The steady depletion of natural sources of rare metals will not bring our modern world to a halt. But the shortfall must be made up by more and better recycling—and here Lille Region is positioning itself to play a major role.
Source: French regional daily La Voix du Nord