The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an R&D branch of the U.S. Military, has issued a Disruption Opportunity with the purpose of funding research into new ways of recovering critical elements from e-waste. According to DARPA, more than 70% of many rare earth elements that they have determined to be crucial to electronic hardware are sourced from China and are vulnerable to supply chain disruptions. Currently the technology to extract these materials from e-waste is limited but there is the potential to close the domestic supply chain loop. A recent study has shown that these elements, which include gallium, indium, tantalum, neodymium, praseodymium, europium, and dysprosium, are contained in e-waste at greater quantities than new manufacturing would require.
It should come as no surprise that efforts to reduce the fragility of supply chains are increasing, and circular economies solve many of the issues associated with how we currently make and dispose of products. The success of a program like this will lead to valuable innovation in e-waste recycling and materials recovery.