Recycling key to clean tech

The energy produced from solar panels and wind turbines may be renewable, but the metal components needed to make them are not. Moving toward a clean energy economy increasingly depends on improving recycling rates of specialty metals like lithium, neodymium and gallium, according to preliminary findings by the UN Environment Programme’s International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management.

Currently, only about 1 percent of these high-tech metals are recycled. Enjoying higher global recycling rates of between 25 and 75 percent are more commonly known metals, such as iron, steel, copper, aluminum, lead and tin.

“Boosting those further through better collection systems and recycling infrastructure, especially in developing countries, could save millions if not billions of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions while also generating potentially significant numbers of green jobs,” stated a news release about the report.

The report notes that recycling metals is two to 10 times more energy efficient than smelting the metals from virgin ores.