LED recycling initiative
Posted on 27th November 2020
Six companies and institutions are working together to find practical new ways to recover gallium when LED lamps are recycled.
The project, named Recovery of Gallium Ionic Liquid (or ReGAIL) is financed in part by Innovate UK, the UK’s Innovation Agency.
Why recover gallium?
Gallium doesn’t occur naturally and is a by-product of aluminium and zinc mining. It’s used in semiconductors for mobile phones and computer chips, for example. It is also likely to be an option to replace silicon in some critical power system semiconductor applications because it offers lower heat loss and requires less space.
As the demand for gallium increases the UK would need to import it from abroad, making its capture during an improved recycling process important.
Gallium from recycled LEDs
When waste LED lamps are recycled, the gallium many of them contain isn’t currently recovered. The aim of the project is to create a circular supply chain for gallium in the UK by improving existing gallium recycling methods for old LED lamps.
If successful, the project will reduce the need for raw gallium and strengthen the supply chain for energy efficient LEDs. It will also develop improved recovery processes with higher performance, safety, and environmental sustainability standards.
Growth in LED popularity
LED lighting has increased in the last 10 years, driven by energy efficiency regulations, wider availability, and reduced prices. Around 15% of building energy use is for lighting, so LEDs are delivering significant energy savings. Already in the UK it’s estimated that 14% of our home lighting uses LEDs.
Although LEDs have a much longer life than earlier lighting products, the number that need to be replaced will go up as their popularity grows. Currently, they account for around 2% of the waste lamps collected in the UK.
Taking steps now to develop new methods of recycling and to recover waste gallium will mean that the industry is ready when the volume of old LEDs starts to increase.
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