Rhodia: launch of a re-cycling project for rare earth elements on the Saint-Fons site in September 2012

18 October 2012

Rhodia, a member of the Solvay group, has begun the work of re-cycling rare earth elements in France. This procedure allows rare earth elements to be recovered from energy efficient light bulbs, batteries or magnets in order to conserve materials and diversify supply.

The Rhodia factory in Saint-Fons is on the site of a former agro-chemicals business and has been converted into a re-cycling unit for rare earth elements found in energy efficient light bulbs: a first in Europe. The unit was opened on 27 September 2012.

Rare earth elements: a vital component in new technologies

World demand for rare earth elements is increasing at over 6% a year. They are vital in the development of renewable energies (re-chargeable batteries) and are one of the essential 'ingredients' in the new technologies being developed (television and computer screens).

These elements, known as rare earth elements (lanthanum, cerium, terbium, yttrium), are paradoxically relatively plentiful but their extraction impacts heavily on the environment and the market has few producers.

Rare earth elements use in cleantech

Rhodia a member of the Axelera chemical-environment centre of excellence since its creation in 2005, has chosen the Saint-Fons site to recover luminescent materials from used  energy efficient light bulbs.

The concentrated rare earth elements are extracted and then re-cycled preserving 100% of their original properties. The rare earth elements are then transferred to La Rochelle, France's second ranked site for this type of re-cycling, where they are successively separated and treated to be re-used in the manufacture of new bulbs.

As a member of Chemistry Valley, this Rhodia Group project called "Coleopterre" is an example of the change from the old industries of the past to the new cleantech industries. It is the result of investment of over 15,000,000 € to re-cycle rare earth elements from a new deposit: the "urban mine".

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A low energy bulb contains 88% glass, 5% metals, 4% plastics, 3% powder containing rare earth elements and 0.005% mercury.