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Electronics Recycling Vital to Securing Clean Energy Supply Chains

 March 7, 2023

The Inflation Reduction Act, which became law in August of 2022, aims to direct federal spending at domestic manufacturing of clean energy and carbon reduction tech. The U.S. supply chains that support this initiative will be a significant target of investment. 

Producers of critical metals will be eligible for tax incentives and will include not only processors and refiners, but recyclers as well. Closing-the-loop and keeping materials in use will therefore be vital to enabling the clean energy economy that the Act is promoting. Increasing formal recycling is among the first steps required for the U.S. to lead this transition.  

Electronics recycling Is perhaps one of the greatest domestic sources of metals that are critical to making components of solar, wind, and hydrogen energy generation.

So, what are these critical materials that are integral to clean energy supply chains? Their availability often varies by geographic location, and they can be rare or difficult to produce. All the following examples can be recovered from electronics to reduce the need for imports and foreign dependence: 

  1. Rare Earth Elements (REEs) like neodymium and dysprosium are used in wind turbines and electric motors.  China currently produces  the majority of REEs globally.  

  2. Platinum Group Metals (PGMs) are used as catalysts in hydrogen fuel cells and in electronic circuit boards. They are expensive and environmentally burdensome to produce, and the high intrinsic metal values make recycling an attractive option for sourcing PGMs.

  3. Lithium and cobalt are largely used in the production of batteries. More than 63% of global cobalt production takes place in the Democratic Republic of Congo where concerns over labor rights and environmental impacts have been raised. 

  4. Copper and aluminum are ubiquitous in renewable technology. Recycling aluminum is 90% more efficient than mining new bauxite ore and both metals can be recycled repeatedly without losses in quality. 

The growing use of these materials in the renewable energy sector underscores the importance of developing sustainable sourcing and recycling practices to ensure the long-term viability of these technologies. The Inflation Reduction Act has the potential to help create a circular economy where materials are reused and recycled in a closed loop.

CEAR’s contributions to circularity and latest waste diversion initiatives directly support these goals and will help to track our processes. This ongoing project is yet another way we are embracing the transition to a clean energy economy.