Seventy-five of the periodic table’s 118 elements are carried in the pockets and purses of more than 100 million U.S. iPhone users every day. Some of these elements are abundant, like silicon in computer chips or aluminum for cases, but certain metals that are required for crisp displays and clear sounds are difficult to obtain. Seventeen elements known as rare earth metals are crucial components of many technologies but are not found in concentrated deposits, and, because they are more dispersed, require toxic and environmentally-damaging procedures to extract.
With the goal of developing better ways to recycle these metals, new research from the lab of Eric Schelter describes a new approach for separating mixtures of rare earth metals with the help of a magnetic field. The approach, published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition, saw a doubling in separation performance and is a starting point towards a cleaner and more circular rare earth metals economy.