Loop Life Project
World leader of rare earth based formulations, Solvay is developing numerous innovations used in daily applications (flat screens, energy-saving lamps, automotive exhaust treatment, high precision optical…).
Started in 2007, the project required two years of Research & Development, followed by two years of industrialization, leading to the decision for investment in 2011.
Since Solvay had decided to start recycling energy-saving lamps earlier, the lamp collection system was already in place. These lamps contain six rare earths (Lanthanum, Cerium, Terbium, Yttrium, Europium and Gadolinium), that Solvay now has the capacity to recycle while preserving 100% of their usage performance. End-of-life light bulbs and tubes are collected, sorted and treated by specialized recycling companies that valorize various components (glass, metal, plastic, mercury). The phosphorescent powders (containing the rare earths) are sent to the Solvay plants, first in Saint Fons (France) to produce a first rare earth concentrate, then to La Rochelle (France), which has unique expertise in rare earth purification. Once purified and separated, the rare earths are then formulated to new phosphor precursors that will be reused in the production of new lamps.
Used in small quantities, rare earths are the "vitamins" essential to the development of new technologies, especially green technologies. Global demand for rare earth is growing by more than 6% per year, making it a strategic raw material. “Recycling allows us to develop a new source of supply, and we aim to become the leading European player in that field,"says Du Hua, director of the Rare Earths Global Business Unit of Solvay. "The start of these units reflects the tangible contribution of our profession of chemistry to sustainable development."
The project will initially address recycling phosphor powders contained in energy-saving lamps. Then, the focus will be directed towards other sources of potential waste, for diversification of supplies.
The Solvay innovation project showed that the process was extrapolated, but to validate the economical interest at industrial scale, a demonstration is required with the following objectives:
- Technological validation & process treatment on the demo plant
- Optimization / development of process equipment at industrial scale
- Evaluation of the use of alternate waste sources
- Process treatment of more than 1000 tons/year of hazardous wastes
- Valorization of the stream up to 90% in the form of:
- 10 to 20% of rare earth oxides (Europium, Terbium, Yttrium, etc.)
- 10 to 50% of glass (by product to valorize)
- 70 to 80% of phosphate (by product to valorize)
- Reduction of wastes by a factor of 10
- Implementation of an industrial process reusing existing equipment (Saint-Fons & La Rochelle)
- Processing of more than 3000 tons/year of waste as a project target at the end of the full scale industrialization
Dr Nicolas BARTHEL
17041 La Rochelle
- Philippe Moissonnier (Industrial Direction) joined the team as project director, replacing Philippe Alinat
- Yann Mayer joined the project team as production manager (Saint Fons Chimie), replacing Yves Courtemanche
- Olivier Larcher (Research & Development) joined the project team as Recycling Platform Manager, coordinating R&D action in the field of recycling
- Boris Chabert (Research & Development) was hired in July 2012 as R&D Process Engineer to support the LOOP project
- Florent Bourachot (Finance) is supporting the project as finance controller
The phosphor powders ready to be recycled are sent to the Solvay plant in Saint Fons where they will undergo a series of physical and chemical treatment resulting in the production of a rare earth concentrate.
This concentrate is then shipped to the Solvay plant in La Rochelle for additional processing steps.
The rare earth concentrate produced at the Saint Fons plant is sent to the Solvay plant in La Rochelle where it undergoes further thermal and chemical processing.
The concentrate is dissolved through hydrometallurgical process and the rare earths are separated and purified using the unique expertise in liquid extraction of the technical teams from La Rochelle.
Once separated and purified, the rare earths are then reformulated into new phosphor precursors that will be reused in the production of new energy-saving lamps.
Tens of millions of lamps are disposed each year in Europe, representing a major environmental challenge.
These lamps have been collected and recycled for several years, and the recycling industry is based on the principle of voluntary contribution of lamps users to a collection point.
In France, Récylum is the company in charge of organizing collection.
Once collected, the lamps are sorted and recycled by specialized recycling companies that valorize mainly glass and metals.
Since the Solvay project start-up, the phosphorescent powder has been valorized, where it becomes the raw material, and will be now sent to Saint Fons instead of being eliminated.