There are 17 rare earth metals in the periodic table, but they are not ‘rare’ because of a lack of abundance – they are rare because they are usually found dispersed in small amounts.
These rare earth metals find use in many modern day applications ranging from healthcare and electronics, to computers and advanced transportation. Two rare earth metals that are particularly useful in sustainable technology and high-tech applications – europium and yttrium.
Europium and yttrium are difficult to mine but they can be recycled and recovered from another source – red lamp phosphor (a powder used in fluorescent lamps and low energy light bulbs).
Chemical engineers from the University of Leuven (KE Leuven), Belgium, have developed a method that recycles the red lamp phosphor as well as separates the rare earth metals, europium and yttrium, from a mixture using UV light.