(OilPrice) Scientists are reporting development of a new method to recycle rare earth elements from wastewater. Many of today’s technologies, from hybrid car batteries to flat-screen televisions, rely on rare earth elements (REEs) that are in short supply.

The process is described in a study in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces. The new process could help alleviate economic and environmental pressures facing the REE industry and favorably affect consumer goods prices over time.

Zhang Lin and colleagues point out that REEs, such as terbium – a silvery metal so soft it can be cut with a knife – behave in unique ways as super magnets, catalysts or superconductors. That makes them irreplaceable in many of today’s tech gadgets and machines.

Market watchers expect global demand to rise to at least 185,000 tons by 2015. Although some of these elements are actually plentiful, others are indeed in short supply. According to reports, terbium and dysprosium supplies may only last another 30 years. Attempts so far to recycle them from industrial wastewater are expensive or otherwise impractical.

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