Rare earths are special metals without which many high-tech products would not function. They are needed, for example, for smartphones, notebooks, LED lights or electric motors, and in ever greater quantities. Currently, about 90 percent of rare earths come from China. Their extraction is expensive and complex, and the prices for the metals are rising continuously.
Instead of mining rare earths, they could also be recovered from electronic waste. However, there are still no environmentally friendly recycling methods. The IMC University of Applied Sciences Krems is currently researching this together with research partners from Austria and the Czech Republic in the REEgain project. The researchers want to recycle rare earths for the first time with the help of microorganisms. Bacteria and algae ensure that the metals can be recovered from electronic waste and wastewater in an environmentally friendly way and without harmful contamination, and can be recycled again. The new forward-looking technology is intended to benefit regional companies in particular.
The REEgain project is a Czech-Austrian research cooperation led by IMC FH Krems. Project partners are the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic (Centrum ALGATECH), Karl Landsteiner Private University and Danube University Krems. The project, which will run until 2022, is funded by the European Regional Development Fund within the framework of the EU programme "INTERREG V-A Austria-Czech Republic". It is one of 60 cross-border projects currently funded by Interreg Austria-Czech Republic.