Mercury & Rare Earth Recycling
Mercury & Rare Earth Recycling
Mercury in Lamps
Mercury has been used in fluorescent based lamps for many years. Over time the amounts of mercury used have dropped as technology improves, but whilst later generations of tubes and compact fluorescent lamps have a few milligrams in them, there are older lamps and other types in use with much more.
The mercury is contained as metallic mercury which vapourises when the lamp is first used, after which it becomes part of the phosphor powder. To recover the mercury from the powder requires heating it under vacuum to vaporise it before condensing it out in a process known as retorting (distillation of solids).
Balcan Lamp Recycling Systems operate at negative pressure, where the powder generated is collected in drums, which can then be retorted.
Rare Earths in Lamps
The phosphor powder used in lamps contains a percentage of rare earths. Percentages vary, but it can be into double figures.
Recovering rare earths is not an easy process and with China controlling the rare earth market, they control the price. Last time prices of rare earths were very high, there was mass interest in developing projects and investing in processes to recover them. China then flooded the market, driving prices down. Projects got scrapped, most permanently.
In order to remove the mercury from the powder you have to use a mercury retort, a distiller for solids. It is necessary to heat the powder under vacuum to a predefined temperature, for a considerable length of time (upto 24 hours).
One such company who can supply this type of equipment is Furnace Technologies of Australia.
Please contact Balcan for more details.
Rare Earth Recycling
Extracting these from the powder can be challenging, but there are systems on the market that can do this.
Today there are a few comapines still looking at rare earth revovery from lamps. Technology varies from the typical wet process of prodcing rare earth salts, to a novel process similar to the production of vermiculite.
Whether these become economically viable remains to be seen.
EWaste Africa has a licence to exploit this technology in the construction of the world first LPXTM Plant.
For more information contact Balcan.
Do you need a Mercury Retort Distiller?
There are alternatives to having to invest and operate your own retort for waste lamps. These retorts are expensive and require close monitoring. When used purely for lamp powder we do not believe they offer a return on investment, but rather enable the claim that the total lamp is recycled and the mercury collected. Removing the mercury from the powder does increase the recycling rate and it is the mercury content which is what everyone refers to when requiring lamps to be recycled. Removing it removes the hazard.
Rare earths have a significant value and are in short supply as the Chinese have banned the export of them, thus increaing a supply shortage.
With the rare earth metals having a significant value it may now be possible to reduce or eliminate the phosphor powder disposal because companies are wanting it. We consider the cost can be reduced between 50-100% depending on the outlet.