Cell phones, computers, LCD screens: these everyday objects are a potential source of critical metals known as TCEs (technology-critical elements). At the end of their useful lives, these objects constitute a sort of "urban mine", a kind of "above-ground" deposit, since most of this waste can be recycled. Recovering the metals they contain is thus becoming a strategic priority for the recycling industry.
THE CHALLENGE: IDENTIFYING AND MEASURING TCEs
Eramet Ideas is a participant in the European MetroCycleEU project (2021-2024), whose objective is to develop a system for measuring "technology-critical elements" (TCEs), which include so-called "technology metals" such as lithium. A computer, for example, contains about 60 different elements. Recovering and using these metals is a complicated process: they are combined with one another, scattered throughout the devices and each has its specific chemical properties. One of MetroCycleEU's major challenges is how to separate TCEs from other components such as plastic.
Eramet Ideas works specifically on lithium-ion batteries from electric vehicles, with the task of identifying the TCEs that can be recycled from among all the various types of components. To do this, the innovation center prepares representative samples from these waste products, crushing them to obtain a fine powder which is then dissolved for analysis. Eramet Ideas is also responsible for managing the project's scientific communications activities.
MetroCycleEU is part of the European Metrology Program for Innovation and Research (EMPIR), which coordinates research projects related to the development of measurement systems. This program focuses particularly on innovation in the fields of industry, energy, environment and health.
THE OBJECTIVES OF THE METROCYCLEEU PROJECT
The MetroCycleEU project has four main objectives, to which Eramet Ideas is contributing:
- Development of methods to measure TCEs in LEDs, printed circuit boards and Li-ion batteries: Eramet Ideas is responsible for providing batteries crushed finely enough (<200 µm) to allow the other partners to develop methods for processing and analysis.
- Production of Certified Reference Materials (CRM): Li-ion batteries are made up of a wide variety of materials, which makes them particularly difficult to grind down to this size for sampling purposes. Consequently, new techniques or strategies need to be developed to overcome this obstacle. This is the task facing the Analysis Department at Eramet Ideas, which has acquired experience in R&D relating to ores and Li-ion batteries in the course of other Eramet Group projects.
- Participation in the analysis of these CRMs as part of inter-laboratory networks, with a view to validating these methods based on the CRMs produced, in cooperation with the manufacturers involved.
- Transfer of knowledge and skills through the creation of guides on the sampling and analysis of TCEs in these products, or through the promotion of this project via conferences, workshops and publications.