An in-depth investigation was carried out on the recovery of rare earth elements (REEs) from a variety of waste printed circuit boards (PCBs). High temperature pyrolysis was carried out at 850 °C for 15 min using horizontal resistance and thermal plasma furnaces with different levels of turbulence. The concentration of REEs in key pyrolysis residues, namely, copper rich red metallic fraction, lead/tin rich white metallic fraction and slag rich carbonaceous residues, were determined using ICP analysis. Most of the REEs were found concentrated in the carbonaceous residue with negligible levels of REEs recovered in the two metallic fractions. Most of the recovered REEs showed a high affinity towards to refractory oxides silica and alumina, and little affinity towards metals Cu, Pb and Sn. The yield of REEs was significantly higher from the plasma furnace indicating the important role of turbulence in the dissociation & subsequent diffusion of REEs during pyrolysis. While La, Pr, Sm and Y required turbulent conditions for their recovery, Nd, Gd, Ce and Dy were relatively easy to dissociate and extract from the waste. Significant amounts of REEs could thus be recovered from waste PCBs as concentrated recyclates for further processing and extraction of individual rare earths. This study has shown that PCBs could prove to be a valuable urban mining resource of REEs. The recovery of REEs, in addition to precious and other metals, could play an important role towards enhancing the economic and environmental sustainability of e-waste recycling.
- Plasma furnace
- Rare earths
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Waste Management and Disposal