Strategic Urban Mining: Recycling Technology to Assist Society
Precious metals and rare metals are contained in small quantities in discarded electronic equipment such as cell phones, laptop computers and digital cameras. Such metal resources have conventionally been discarded. However, if the resources hidden in these so-called "urban mining" could be recycled, they would provide valuable resources for Japan. AIST is promoting the development of technologies to extract resources dormant in these urban mining with high precision, as well as systems to recover the resources systematically.
AIST has already developed and commercialized various recycling devices and systems in this field, including a highly selective high-gradient magnetic separator, which recovers valuable rare earth metals from waste fluorescent lamps, and a system to automatically recover tantalum capacitors individually from discarded printed circuit boards. By integrating these and more, we propose "Strategic Urban Mining," a concept which is designed to systematically achieve economic recycling of such resources using a database of waste products that contain metals needed by Japan. Through this concept, various techniques are introduced including an easy sensing technology that uses inexpensive equipment to mechanize the dismantling and separation work which is currently done manually, and a smart operation technology that automatically optimizes the operating conditions based on simulations. Currently, we are promoting the activities of the Strategic Urban Mining Research Base (SURE) in AIST, with the SURE Consortium that was set up as a forum for collaboration between the government and the private sector, to accelerate introduction of the system in society.