Rare earth elements, also known as REE or simply rare earths, are a group of seventeen elements from the periodic table, fifteen of which are lanthanides along with yttrium and scandium. Although their names suggest them to be rare in occurrence, it is not the case. Some of these elements are abundantly available; however, their concentrations are significantly low within the ore and, thus, called as rare earth elements. Rare earth elements have substantial and versatile usage in various applications ranging from daily consumer goods to super powerful magnets employed in wind energy generation and in shielding nuclear reactors. Some of the commonly used rare earth elements are yttrium, scandium, lanthanum, cerium, and neodymium. Several of these elements have the potential to be reused and recycled.
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The recycling process at present is relatively uneconomical as concentrations of rare earth elements in most of the discarded waste are significantly low. Several parameters such as weak waste collection infrastructure, new and underdeveloped waste sorting and extracting technologies, and low quantity of rare earth per kilogram of waste largely hamper the rare earth element recycling industry presently. However, dependency of other countries on China for rare earth supply is compelling the countries to develop and employ technologies for rare earth element recycling. Sometimes, these ores exist along with other radioactive elements such as uranium or thorium making extraction of rare earths difficult and hazardous. Furthermore, the current rare earth reserves are poor in terms of rare earth elements present in the ore. Thus, as demand and extraction continue to elevate, the resources are anticipated to deplete and exhaust, rendering the extraction of these elements uneconomical. Therefore, demand for rare earth elements need to be met through recycling. Moreover, certain applications have relatively higher concentrations of rare earth elements such as florescent light bulbs, rare earth magnets, etc. which are economical and feasible for recycling.
Based on type of element recycled, the rare earth elements recycling market can be segmented into yttrium recycling, neodymium recycling, cerium recycling, scandium recycling, and dysprosium recycling, among others. Neodymium recycling is a highly promising segment as neodymium magnets have great potential to be recycled. In terms of source, the rare earth elements recycling market can be classified into magnets, e-waste, automotive waste, municipal waste, etc. on the basis of recycling type, the rare earth elements recycling market can be bifurcated into functional recycling and non-functional recycling. Functional recycling reintroduces the metals back as raw materials, thereby creating circular economy for them.
Based on geography, the global rare earth elements recycling market can be classified into Asia Pacific, Europe, North America, Latin America, and Middle East & Africa. Europe, followed by North America, are anticipated to be the key markets for rare earth elements recycling during the forecast period. These regions largely depend on Asia Pacific, especially, China for their need for rare earth. China’s dominance in the rare earth elements market coupled with varying supply and highly fluctuating prices of rare earth elements have made these regions the hub for rare earth recycling. In the later forecast period, Asia Pacific is projected to turn toward recycling of rare earth elements when its reserves deplete and extraction becomes uneconomical.
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Key players operating in the global rare earth elements recycling market include Osram AG, Solvay Group, AERC Recycling Solutions, and Global Tungsten & Powders Corp.