Concentrating on value

In an earlier post we posed the question why fluorescent powder from waste light bulbs, which could be said to contain higher concentrations of heavy rare earth elements (REE) than virgin rock ore that is being mined, is not economical for urban mining. The question is worth revisiting in light of recent developments.

Much ado about rare earth powders

The first has been some new research by S. Mueller, et al., comparing concentrations of rare earth found in geologic deposits (using Mount Weld, Australia as the reference case) and rare earth found in anthropogenic deposits in Switzerland, i.e. waste products (using Neodynium magnets in electric cars, Europium in fluorescent lamps, and Erbium in optical fibres as reference cases).  The research found that anthropogenic sources of REE, while smaller than the geologic deposit in Mount Weld, had both higher concentrations and longer mine life. Despite this, there was currently no recycling or urban mining taking place of these anthropogenic deposits in Switzerland. The authors approach evaluated the “host rock” in the fluorescent lamp case as the phosphors and base the mass fraction on this and found good potential for urban mining. Despite this, recyclers in Switzerland are currently land-filling the phosphor powders “with an option for retrieval” (p.231). This might have something to do with the “geologic context” of the phosphors being four lamp recyclers in Switzerland. This is in contrast to the one recycler we mentioned, Nordic Recycling, recycling all the lamps from Norway and Sweden (and sometimes Danish lamps too).  Perhaps the concentration is part of what made it possible (again, if not economical) for Nordic to send  phosphor powder to Solvay in France for further REE recycling.

New research, in which IIIEE was involved (Machacek , Richter, Habib, & Klossek, 2015), discusses the importance of EPR legislation to first make the collection systems for concentrating dispersed waste products as a necessary precursor to commercial scale urban mining or recycling of REE from waste lamps. Commercial scale recycling by Solvay only became interesting because of the 2011 price volatility of heavy REE.

Prices in U.S. dollars of some REE (Europium (Eu) and Terbium (Tb) and Dysprosium (in Haque, Hughes, Lim, & Vernon, 2014)

However, we only saw this happening on such a scale in Europe, while in other geographic regions like the U.S., there were only pilot or smaller scale demonstration projects. Recycling is only possible if the dispersed products can be collected in the first place and if there is a viable recovery process. Besides the Solvay commercial process, we have also seen in Europe lots of research recently to further develop REE recovery from waste lamp phosphors (for examples check out the work of D. Dupont at KU Leuven or C. Tunsu at Chalmers). So it seems there is reverse logistic infrastructure to bring the waste products back, there is a recycling process to yield the powder, and there are processes for then separating the rare earth back into pure elemental form for use again.  The problem then does not seem technical, but rather economic.

It is important to remember that recycling of REE was only one of the responses to the 2011 price spikes. Other responses included redesigning lamps with less REE content and looking for alternative non-Chinese mining deposits. There was evidence of fluorescent phosphor re-design with less rare earth content and research projects to develop LEDs  without any rare earths at all.  New mining operations outside China was the strategy pursued by Molycorp and Lynas in reopening Mountain Pass mine in California and the Mount Weld mine in Australia respectively. Potential mining operations were explored in Europe as well, with Norra Kärr deposit in Sweden, and in Greenland. The Mountain Pass mine has since shut down again and despite Mount Weld being described as the richest known deposit of rare earths in the world, even Lynas is struggling now too. This has to do the with prices falling since the spike in 2011 and again making alternative sources from China less attractive.

Rare earths are not only found in China. Mountain Pass mine dominated worldwide REE production from the 1960s to the 1980s (USGS).

Some commentators have argued that the price spike and resulting response with new primary and urban mining projects showed that China do not have a real monopoly on rare earths and the world can find alternative supply when needed. Maybe China out-competing alternative mining and recycling projects does not constitute a real monopoly, but is it a risk nonetheless? The ability of production to ramp up in the U.S. and Australia worked this time, but also showed the significant investment costs involved, underestimation of the complexity of commercial production and the risk of the boom-bust cycle resulting in a failed venture like Mountain Pass. So while alternative mining is possible, it might be that such risks may make investors wary.

So China remains by far the biggest player in the market, not because it is the only country that can supply REE but because it seems the only country that can supply relatively cheap REE. How it does this has been attributed to illegal mining and environmentally damaging mining practices. These negative externalities are not part of the price in China, but are part of the price in countries with more stringent mining and environmental regulations.  The problem is that producers buy REE based on price as the main consideration.

Mining outside of China may avoid some of the worst environmental impacts, but urban mining REE from waste products not only avoids the environmental impact of extraction, but also contributes towards waste reduction and resource efficiency goals – all part of the circular economy agenda.  These positive externalities are also not considered in the price when producers are buying primary mined REE from China rather than secondary sourced REE from domestic waste.  If we are truly moving towards a circular economy, this issue will need to be addressed. We discuss this a bit more in the following article:

Machacek, E., Richter, J. L., Habib, K., & Klossek, P. (2015). Recycling of rare earths from fluorescent lamps: Value analysis of closing-the-loop under demand and supply uncertainties. Resources, Conservation and Recycling,104, 76-93.

The article looks at the potential for closed loop recycling of REE phosphors and at the case of Solvay-Rhodia. However, since the article, Solvay have now announced the intended closure of their recycling facilities. So it seems that urban mining, like conventional mining, is also vulnerable to boom-bust cycles even with the EU strategy circular economy strategy promotion.

CFL/Closing loops/Policy and legislation/WEEE 0

Good lamp, and bad data, collection

We have written before about the issues with collecting small WEEE like lamps.  So the question is, how are countries doing in the EU with collecting and recycling of lamps, particularly mercury containing gas discharge lamps?  To find the answer, we had a look in the Eurostat WEEE statistics. First we should say that nearly everyone we have spoken with in this research has highlighted problems with reliable data, and have pointed out that Eurostat statistics can be misleading and erroneous. Accurate and useful data for measuring and comparing collection rates of WEEE, and lamps in particular, remains a significant challenge. However, the fact also remains that there is little other data available.

The Eurostat data is underpinned by agencies reporting at the member state level and their data is underpinned in turn by PROs, producers, and import/export statistics. However, the data may have been through several conversions before its final reporting. Producers are required in some countries to report based on amounts which are then converted into kilograms for reporting at the EU level, which in turn leaves room for error and inconsistency. Another challenge is lighting technology changing faster than the CN codes used for reporting, which explains why, according to Lighting Europe, LEDs can be classified under different CN codes.  Additionally, as lifetimes of lamp products have extended, the three year average of put on market used specified by the WEEE Directive may not be the most relevant measure (it has been proposed that at least 6 years is a more accurate measure of the historic collection rate). While some of the data issues are being addressed, it still means it will be some time before there is consistent and reliable data.

So with those huge disclaimers aside, we can say that looking at what data there is still gives us some picture of what is happening in the EU with lamp collection. The figure below shows the top 10 performing European countries, as measured in kg per capita collection of gas discharge (mercury containing fluorescent) lamps. top performers

Looking at this we see nothing too out of the ordinary (compared to regular WEEE collection that is). Small amounts are indicative of the light weight of lamps. Scandinavian countries are performing very well. However, there is something to remember, especially when it comes to lighting products. While these countries collect well even when calculated accounting for population, this way of measuring does not take into account the fact that in these Northern countries there are more lighting products put on the market and sold per capita as well (a fact anyone who has lived through a Scandinavian winter will find unsurprising). So does anything change when we account for the put on market lighting products?

Top performers WEEE for GDLs

The figure above shows  the collection % for countries with market over 1000 tonnes based on 2010-2012 average collection % of gas discharge  (mercury containing fluorescent) lamps compared to put on market 2007-2011 based on the Eurostat data (2014).  Collection % from 3 years (2010-2012) were averaged to account for higher variability when looking at this product category and to identify the consistently high performers rather than high performers of a certain year only (which you find can be often the case with a small waste stream and particularly with smaller countries). As mentioned in the data issues, countries report a little differently, so in the case of Netherlands, the data is estimated based on 2012 (tonnes) from Eurostat put on market data and Huisman et al. (2012) estimates of per capita lamps put on market 2010. Note that GDL data in practice often contains LEDs and other light sources and can be deemed an estimate only.

Again we see Sweden on top, but the most noticeable is the changed position of Norway when taking into account the put on market data. On the one hand this could be telling us that the collection is indeed not as effective in Norway. It could also be telling us that Norway does something different with its put on market data than the other countries when it comes to gas discharge lamps. We have been discussing with stakeholders in Norway and the reason is still not clear. It also stresses the need to look at the collection systems beyond a mere statistic to make sense of what is really going on. It seems though, that most of the Scandinavian countries are doing well with collection, no matter how you count. To this end, it is worth looking into some of the design features of these systems (in the table below).

Comparison of nordic lamp EPR systems

Again, it is surprising when comparing the systems that Norway’s collection is quite a bit lower despite many similarities in system design with the other countries. So while the message from the collection % alone would lead us to conclude that they need to improve their collection system, the comparison of the collection system leads of to conclude they may need to align their reporting system!

For more information about best practices in lamp collection in the Nordic countries, check out our newly published academic article!

Eurostat. (2014, April). Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). Retrieved August 26, 2014, from

Huisman, J., Van der Maesen, M., Eijsbouts, R. J. J., Wang, F., Baldé, C. P., & Wielenga, C. A. (2012). The Dutch WEEE Flows. United Nations University. Retrieved from

CFL/Denmark/Disposal and Collection/Norway/Policy and legislation/Sweden/WEEE 0

Which path to (energy efficient) illumination?

When it comes to lighting, we have noted in this blog about the significant contribution energy efficient lighting can have on energy savings and reduction of greenhouse gases. To this end, minimum energy performance standards are indicated a key tool in transitioning to such lighting.  To this end, the Ecodesign Directive, and more specifically implementing regulations like 244/2009, have set minimum energy performance standards for most lighting products in the EU. Regulation 244/2009 introduced stages of standards which effectively began phasing out inefficient lighting (most notably incandescent bulbs). Sometimes the standards were portrayed only as bans on specific technology (i.e. banning of the incandescent bulb, which sparked controversy), but it is important to keep in mind that the standards focus on requirements for lighting efficacy (e.g. energy use per lumen output), functionality, and product information, rather than targeting specific technology per se. The standards for promotion of market for efficient lighting products were drafted in the context of their importance for the Europe 2020 agenda and its 20% energy savings target by the year 2020.

Part of the reason for bringing in the standards was to initiate a market transition to more efficient lighting, one that was possible given the technological development of lighting, but still not taking place with only voluntary and informational measures. The regulations were drafted after a preparatory study where stakeholders, including consumer organisations, NGOs and industry associations (e.g. Lighting Europe representing the lighting industry) had the opportunity to comment as well as later on the early working documents of the Commission in the Ecodesign Consultation Forum (you can find an overview of the process, reports, and stakeholder comments here).  The timeline with a staged process was designed to give the industry incentives towards energy efficiency requirements, but also time for technological development to ensure there were adequate replacements available for consumers when less efficient technology was phased out.

Ecodesign lighting reg 244

It is this timeline that became an issue when a review of the regulation included a review of the timeline and technology. The review study, relased by VHK-VITO in June 2013 in consultation with experts (whose extensive comments are included in the annexes), found that there could be substantial net job losses (the study estimated -6,800 net employment) and its projections for price and development LED technology predicted it would remain costly for some time and that efficiency gains with LEDs were still being made, which meant delaying the shift to LEDs might be preferable for environmental reasons as well (the study also assumed that CFLs were replacing incandescent bulbs, more on that later). The findings of the study, with other evidence, convinced the Commission to propose a two-year delay to Stage 6 to give LED technology more time to develop.

The proposal was not without opponents, for several reasons. The first opposition was raised on principle. Some experts and countries, most visibly Sweden, were opposed to the delay because it set a dangerous precedent with changing legislation (that had gone through a consultation process already) before implementation. Denmark along with Sweden, Belgium, as well as organizations like CLASP and ECEEE also conducted their own studies into the lighting market and the availability and cost of LEDs and found that the market was in fact developing much faster than anticipated and modeled in the VHK-VITO report. Moreover, the modelling in these reports also found that halogen lamps, more than CFLs, were replacing incandescent lamps so the earlier report had also overestimated the energy savings already occurring and underestimated the savings from the ban on halogens. The 2015 report findings instead proposed that Stage 6 should be implemented as planned as the optimal scenario.

So what was decided?  The two year delay was approved. The process raises questions about the use of updated information about technological developments – should a study not have been done until 2015 to be more accurate of the current state? But then would there be enough time for a full consultation process? How could the 2015 studies have made more of an impact on decision-making? Another could be whether now lobbying has been proven an effective strategy in delaying Ecodesign legislation.

LED/SSL/Policy and legislation/The future of lighting 0

Meet “The Collector”

I have been checking out the new “Samlaren” or “The Collector” here now in grocery stores southern Sweden.  Samlaren was a design project by Renova and Chalmers students in response to the need for better small electronics collection. Four Samlaren were tested in Gothenburg in 2009.  The first year Samlaren collected 4.5 kg of waste (compared to just over 5kg at five recycling centers). A study of the different collection systems by El Kretsen found that the Samlaren operated at a cost of roughly 16kr/kg collected.  Here in Skåne, Samlaren are being installed by SYSAV in an effort to increase the collection of small e-waste.


Around 60 have been deployed throughout Skane (shown below) in an effort to make it easy to recycle small e-waste such as CFLs, small electronics like razors, and batteries. Sysav hopes the effort will help further eliminate hazardous substances from waste streams and to recycle precious metals in the products that can be used in the production of new goods. It is also hoped that Samlaren will help households where old lamps tend to accumulate. In Lund, Samlaren offers an alternative way to dispose of lamps, batteries and small electronics without having to go to the recycling center or wait for the hazardous waste recycling bus to come around.  Sounds good! We will be going to Sysav in September to ask how the Samlaren is performing so far.

map of samlaren


CFL/Disposal and Collection/Sweden/WEEE 0

Recycling rare elements in lamps

A reason for energy efficient lamps being important for resource efficiency and circular economy agendas has much to do with the rare and critical elements found in fluorescent and LED lamps. Rare earths are used on the phosphor coating of lamps to produce soft white light (a well as other colours of light). While rare earths for lighting only account for 7% of the global use by volume, they account for 32% of the market value.  This is in large part to the high level of purity needed for high quality phosphors. Thus, sourcing rare earths to make this essential component is of great importance. The fact that China produces the overwhelming majority of rare earths also raises concerns about supply risks (and why these materials are on critical material lists in both the EU and U.S.)

production of critical materials

Source: EU Commission, 2010

These concerns were shown to be valid when China restricted the export of rare earths in from 50,145 tons in 2009 to only 31,130 tons in 2012.  While rare earths are used only in small amounts in fluorescent lamps, and even smaller amounts in LEDs, this development was a big concern for the industry. It responded in a few ways. One was to look for substitutes, and there are currently developments to combine LEDs with different wavelengths to produce the white light spectrum, but work still needs to be done to make this as efficient as the current blue LED combined with phosphors.

Until this is more established however, another alternative was looking at how we can better recycle the rare earth materials already embodied in lighting products – through urban mining.  This has been the subject of a few programmes on the Swedish national radio lately. Lamps are one of the best examples that this circular economy thinking can actually result in closing material loops. The case was demonstrated through a Life+ project in which Solvay-Rhodia set up a commercial-scale process for recycling the rare earth materials from collected waste lamps.  However, Solvay-Rhodia have indicated that this project is not their best project economically and driven more by sustainability considerations. The question is why is this so – when you consider that secondary powders can contain 15 times the concentrations of hard rock REE bearing ores? This is a question we are currently looking at in our research.

Watch a video about this unique recycling process.



CFL/Closing loops/General Knowledge/Policy and legislation/WEEE 1

Where do all the lamps go?

One question I heard asked many times, and have asked myself, is where do lamps go after I have brought them for collection?  In Sweden (and currently also Norway and Denmark), the answer is Nordic Recycling in Hovmantorp. Household collection from apartments and other collection sites is aggregated in the same yellow bins found at the recycling centers and transported to Hovmantorp. This is organised and paid for by the producer responsibility organisations (for example, El Kretsen in Sweden).

Yellow bins for lamps at the recycling centers

The yellow bins arrive in Hovmantorp





MRT recycling technology

Lamps are loaded into the recycling machine

Unlike other waste fractions, lamps are special with many of them containing small amounts of mercury that require a special recycling process. Nordic Recycling uses an oxidation process where the lamps are first crushed and then washed.  Washing involves tumbling in a fluid with chemicals, in a closed process that lowers the risk of exposure and emissions. During the washing, the mercury (Hg) in converted into an Hg-salt by the chemicals in the liquid. Cleaned glass, metals and other materials free from mercury are further separated.

The end results are fractions of glass, plastic, metals, and mercury/phosphor powder

The end results are fractions of glass, plastic, metals, and mercury/phosphor powder








Theoretically all the fractions can be recycled further, but in reality the quality of the material and market for it determine the what happens to the material. The metal from this process is further recycled, while the plastic is incinerated (energy recovery).  The glass fractions can theoretically be recycled, but in Sweden this is made more difficult by the need to transport the heavy fraction to the glass recyclers and the fact that these recyclers already have plenty of secondary material supply. So in actuality, the glass fraction is used as construction material in landfill cover. In Finland, the glass fraction is used to make foam glass, an interesting construction material, and now this option is being investigated in Sweden as well.

recycled fractions

source: Richter, 2015

Perhaps most interesting these days is the use of the phosphor powder fraction. While in the past this fraction was landfilled as hazardous waste, now this fraction is sent to Solvay-Rhodia in France for further processing and recycling the rare earth content. More about this in the next post!

CFL/Closing loops/Denmark/Disposal and Collection/Sweden 0

Beyond the bulb – servicizing lighting

Big producers like Osram and Philips have indicated a shift in the traditional lighting business towards selling services. But what does servicizing actually mean? This could range from selling services associated with lighting products, to leasing the products, or even paying for only light.

servicizing light

Just visit any large lighting producers website and there is already a tab for “services”.  Most are offering services related to their products such as extended warrantiesmaintenance, energy efficiency optimization and design services. Some are going beyond this with lifecycle and financial service options.  But truly innovative business models are still limited it seems.

A few good examples of innovation include the “pay per lux” service Philips provided in a project with RAU architects and again with the National Union of Students in London. The projects were initiated at the request of the clients who wanted to pay for light services only.  Leasing light products seems to be working in some cases and with particular clients, like solar lighting kits in developing communities in Africa or municipalities who need a way to finance the higher up front costs (but lower life-time costs) of LED street lighting, for example in Washington D.C.

While Philips have indicated such models of business are what they believe is the future of lighting, there haven’t been too many more examples that I can find. It seems selling only light still needs some of the details worked out to make it attractive to a wider range of customers.  This is not uncommon as such challenges were also part of the process with other products (think Xerox) in their move towards servicizing, and there are several barriers in moving towards product service systems (PSS) in general. It will be interesting to follow the development in the next couple of years as new business models are tested and more empirical evidence can give insight into what works and what does not.


General Knowledge/LED/SSL/The future of lighting 1

The traditional business of light

With the latest developments of LED technology with increased product lifetimes and integration into smart systems, there has been increasing focus on the idea of servicizing lighting. This is a far cry from the traditional lighting industry model with its focus on the product and power consolidated in the hands  of the big three producers) was so great, that producers protected their interests and profits by forming the Phoebus cartel.

The cartel was formed to ensure quality of products and safeguard production capacities. The cartel also agreed to standardization of lamp (by wattage, shape and screw-in mounts), with the argument that standardization ensured quality for consumers.  In 1925 the cartel also codified the life of a lamp to 1000 hours despite the technological capability lamps to last twice as long. Those producers found to be producing products with lifespans longer or shorter than 1000 hours were fined. The formation of the cartel represented one of the first examples of planned obsolescence. Besides the cartel, there were other lighting industry alliances, including the Patentgemeinschaft (“patent pool”) that influenced production quotas though its control of the patents needed to make the core lighting products and the Internationale Glühlampen Preisvereinigung that endeavoured to control lamp prices in Europe . These alliances and actions reflected the producers’ desire for greater market certainty in an industry focused on a low cost product and vulnerable to significant market fluctuations (for example, in 1923 Osram had experienced a drop in sales from 63 million to 28 million lamps).

osram lamp 1910

Ultimately, World War II broke through alliances and changed the lighting industry’s focus beyond lamp sales. War necessitated longer life and more energy efficient products – and a focus on the customer’s needs rather than the company’s sales alone. This need spurred further development of fluorescent lamps with longer lives and better energy efficiency. The market diversified and new actors entered, but lamp producers have remained focused on developing and diversifying lamp products. Also, despite increasing market share from smaller firms outside of Europe and the U.S., the industry remained dominated by the 3 or 4 largest producers.

lightbulbs variety

The variety of lamps increased after WWII

Will LED be the technology that forces this industry to evolve beyond the product?  It certainly looks that way.  Already the big producers are giving indications that LED lighting is a new business for them. This time new entrants like Opple, Cree, TCP and Acuity seem to pose a real threat to the big 3 producers. Most producers remain focused on the product (but some, like Aura Light, focusing on maximizing the long-life and sustainability aspects as a selling point), but already the big producers have reshuffled or made their lighting operations independent from the parent companies.  They have also indicated that the future of the lighting industry is now moving beyond the bulb into the business of selling light as a service.


Closing loops/General Knowledge/LED/SSL/The future of lighting 1

IKEA reversing material flows?

We’ve given attention to Samlaren being unveiled in Sweden, but we should also mention other similar initiatives aimed at increasing household collection of lamps in Europe. One such initiative is the reverse vending machines being installed in select IKEA stores in the UK and Denmark.  The idea is simple. Similar to deposit refund or pant machines, these machines give an incentive for customers returning used lamps. The incentives range from a cup of coffee to a voucher for a free LED lamp.

Reverse vending video

IKEA Denmark’s Sustainability Manager told us that the plan is to tie incentives to promotions in the store. While the collection machines support the retailers mission to promote more energy efficient lighting (stores are moving towards only selling LEDs) and consideration for the sustainability aspects of their products, the machines also promote health and safety among for their employees.  The reverse vending machines are equipped with padding to prevent breakage and  a mercury fume extractor to safely deal with any broken bulbs that do occur.

CFL/Closing loops/Denmark/Disposal and Collection/UK 0

Lighting and the environment – the global perspective

env management UNEP map

I mentioned in an earlier post about the phase out of inefficient lighting in many countries around the world (shown in the map from UNEP above) and the need to ensure we are recycling and dealing with used lamps in an environmental sound manner (countries with some measures in place are shown in the map from UNEP below).

regulatory mechanisms UNEP map

It might be worth taking a moment to think about why this is a policy initiative and a priority for many countries and organisations (including UNEP, which promotes efficient lighting throughout the world in its en.lighten progamme). According to UNEP, electricity for lighting accounts for approximately “15% of global power consumption and 5% of worldwide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.” Switching to efficient lighting globally “would save more than $140 billion and reduce CO2 emissions by 580 million tonnes every year”. UNEP also has data on specific countries’ lighting electricity use and potential savings by switching to energy efficient lighting.  UNEP promotes an integrated approach to energy efficient lighting that also involves end-of-life and environmental management. Specifically, UNEP highlights the importance of the following environmentally sound management  measures on a national level that include:
1. Regulations for maximum mercury levels to instigate progressively lower levels of mercury in lamps
2. Electronic waste handling regulations with provisions for  mandatory lamp collection and recycling
3. Other lamp- related activities (e.g. collection programmes,  recycling facility, voluntary schemes, awareness-raising about  the importance  of collection and recycling, etc.)

I will be further exploring the measures mentioned above in future posts!


CFL/Closing loops/Disposal and Collection/General Knowledge/LED/SSL/Policy and legislation/The future of lighting/WEEE 1