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Innovative Waste Recycling Nets Prize

May 28, 2014 By William Opalka

GE wind turbineA Texas team that turns waste from hard drives into critical resources used in efficient wind turbines and electric motors won a recycling prize awarded to student innovators.

REEcycle won the $100,000 First Place prize at the Third Annual First Look West (FLoW) Regional competition. An event was held at the California Institute of Technology, according to EDC. REEcycle’s process extracts rare earth elements from discarded hard drive magnets. Neodymium and Dysprosium are materials needed in the manufacture of clean energy technologies like wind turbine components.

Rare Earth elements are critical to the most efficient wind turbines and electric motors. Many of these elements come from unstable parts of the world, or from an economic competitor, China, which is the world’s largest exporter of rare earth elements.

REEcycle was led by a University of Houston student team, and has developed a scalable process for reclaiming rare earth elements. The combined Neodymium and Dysprosium market was worth more than $4 billion in 2012. The market for just those two elements is expected to grow to $8 billion by 2018, according to EDC.

The Department of Energy conducts a National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition (NCEBPC), with FLoW as part of  the Western Region event. Caltech’s Resnick Sustainability Institute oversees the event, which was the culmination of a six-month competition searching for clean energy innovation in American universities.

REEcycle and the second and third Place winners graphene processor GrollTex and CinderBio, an industrial enzyme innovator shared more than $160,000 in prize money and start-up packages that include boot camp scholarships and legal support.

 



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