Salvaging rare earth elements from electronic waste

Amir Sheikhi, Penn State assistant professor of chemical engineering, found a new process to separate and recycle rare earth elements using plant cellulose, an inexpensive renewable resource found in paper, cotton and pulp, like the paper towel shown here. The vial contains the nanoparticles that are used to separate rare earth elements from old computers and circuit boards. Credit: Kate Myers

Manufacturers rely on rare earth elements, like neodymium, to create strong magnets used in motors for electronics including hybrid cars, aircraft generators, loudspeakers, hard drives and in-ear headphones. But mineral deposits containing neodymium are hard to reach and are found in just a few…

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