Magnets sustainably separate mixtures of rare …

Magnets sustainably separate mixtures of rare earth metals

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.

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Turning plastic trash into lubricant oils

Turning plastic trash into lubricant oils

Single-use plastics might have more inherent value than you think.

Researchers have developed a new method for upcycling abundant, seemingly low-value plastics into high-quality liquid products, such as motor oils, lubricants, detergents and even cosmetics. The discovery also improves on current recycling methods that result in cheap, low-quality plastic products.

The catalytic method serves a one-two punch by removing plastic pollution from the environment and contributing to a circular economy.

Northwestern University, Argonne National Laboratory and Ames Laboratory led the multi-institutional team.

“Our team is delighted to have discovered this new technology that will help us get ahead of the mounting issue of plastic waste accumulation,” said Northwestern’s Kenneth R. Poeppelmeier, who contributed to the research. “Our findings have broad implications for developing a future in which we can continue to benefit from plastic materials, but do so in a way that is sustainable and less harmful to the environment and potentially human health.”

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Six degrees of nuclear separation

Argonne scientists look to 3D printing to ease separation anxiety, which paves the way to recycle more nuclear material.

Astronauts now print their own parts in space to repair the International Space Station. Scientists at Harvard just discovered a way to print organ tissue an important step toward possibly creating 3D-printed biological organs. These are just two examples of how 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is revolutionizing science and technology.

Advances in 3D printing are also poised to transform the nuclear industry as scientists reap the benefits of creating flexible materials, parts and sensors layer by layer. Additive manufacturing can even help us recycle used nuclear fuel more efficiently, according to a new pivotal breakthrough by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory.

We can recycle waste from nuclear reactors in several ways, including one method developed by Argonne scientists in the 1970s. With these approaches, nuclear engineers can recycle 95 percent of the spent nuclear fuel from a reactor, leaving only five percent to be stored as long-term waste. But now, for the first time, Argonne scientists have printed 3-D parts that pave the way to recycling even more nuclear waste, as detailed in a Sept. 6 article in Scientific Reports.

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The Big Sort: An Insider’s Tour of a R…

The Big Sort: An Insider’s Tour of a Recycling Plant

Every day at the Sims Municipal Recycling facility in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, roughly 800 tons of recyclables meander through a tangle of machines, scanners, and conveyor belts. Mountains of discarded metals, glass, and plastic are sifted, sorted, and bundled into bails, eventually transforming into marketable commodities.

Electronic waste is mined for rare earth ele…

Electronic waste is mined for rare earth elements

Rare earth elements are the “secret sauce” of numerous advanced materials for energy, transportation, defense and communications applications. Their largest use for clean energy is in permanent magnets, which retain magnetic properties even in the absence of an inducing field or current.

Now, U.S. Department of Energy researchers have invented a process to extract rare earth elements from the scrapped magnets of used hard drives and other sources. They have patented and scaled up the process in lab demonstrations and are working with ORNL’s licensee Momentum Technologies of Dallas to scale the process further to produce commercial batches of rare earth oxides.

“We have developed an energy-efficient, cost-effective, environmentally friendly process to recover high-value critical materials,” said co-inventor Ramesh Bhave of DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, who leads the membrane technologies team in ORNL’s Chemical Sciences Division. “It’s an improvement over traditional processes, which require facilities with a large footprint, high capital and operating costs and a large amount of waste generated.”

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janeandersonmapractice: That’s Caffeine I cha…


That’s Caffeine

I chatted to product designer Atticus Durnell at New Designers. He’s recently been awarded a Designers Guild Mark for his project That’s Caffeine – a project inspired by the ideology of sustainability and amount of coffee-related waste. Atticus has turned the ground coffee into a number of products from lamps, to tiles. The ground coffee is mixed with natural plants and minerals  to bind it, to create a hard surface texture similar to that of granite stone. The material is heat and water resistant, making it the perfect tile for room like interior fittings like kitchens and bathrooms.

The the UK alone we generate more than half a million tonnes of coffee waste, , this in turn produces two million tonnes of Co2 emissions. By saving this from landfill and reusing coffee grounds could have enormous potential as a new material.



There are so many innovations going on using waste material and leftovers and The Shellworks is a fine example. Four students from the RCA have developed a series of machines that have been turning waste lobster shells into bioplastics. This is a great demonstration of the whole process and has given me a few ideas of what I’d like to develop to document my material tests.

janeandersonmapractice: Sumibako Charcoal Stor…


Sumibako Charcoal Storage Baskets

Staring to research into what homeware ranges that contain activated charcoal and came across Sumibako, a storage baskets a product from Japan. Sumibako is an environmentally friendly garbage can designed to absorb unpleasant smells and moisture from the air. Made from recycled materials of charcoal, wood and driftwood, the bag itself is collapsible and easily stored flat when it’s not needed. This is quite a functional utilitarian use that you could see being added to the product lines in a like Muji for example. I’m much more interested in something perfectly crosses a more sculptural and functional form. 

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