Fierce competition over raw materials for new green technologies could become a thing of the past, thanks to a discovery by scientists from the University of Leeds.
Researchers from Leeds’ Faculty of Engineering have discovered how to recover significant quantities of rare-earth oxides, present in titanium dioxide minerals. The rare-earth oxides, which are indispensable for the manufacture of wind turbines, energy-efficient lighting, and hybrid and electric cars, are extracted or reclaimed simply and cheaply from the waste materials of another industrial process.
If taken to industrial scale, the new process could eventually shift the balance of power in global supply, breaking China’s near monopoly on these scarce but crucial resources. China currently holds 95 per cent of the world’s reserves of rare earth metals in a multi-billion dollar global market in which demand is growing steadily.
“These materials are also widely used in the engines of cars and electronics, defence and nuclear industries. In fact they cut across so many leading edge technologies, the additional demand for device related applications is set to outstrip supply,” said Professor Animesh Jha, who led the research at Leeds.
“There is a serious risk that technologies that can make a major environmental impact could be held back through lack of the necessary raw materials — but hopefully our new process, which is itself much ‘greener’ than current techniques, could make this less likely.”
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