Germanium from Fiber Scraps
|Fiber-optic cables contain the rare metal germanium|
|Poto: Flickr / Vodafone Media (CC BY-ND 2.0)|
Fiber-optic cables enable us to surf on high-speed internet, make phone calls and receive television. They are the backbone of modern telecommunications networks. Data is transferred optically via light, which is quite different from earlier technologies, offering the crucial advantage of considerably larger maximum bandwidth. More information can be transmitted within the same unit of time. Fiber-optic cables cannot be produced without a metal called germanium, which is why industry consumes around 30 per cent of its worldwide production.
The production of fiber-optic cables generates scrap, which consists primarily of quartz glass and synthetic materials that contain the germanium. To date, there is a high demand for economically viable recycling processes to reclaim the metal from these scraps.
Therefore, plans are in place to develop a pyro-metallurgic recycling process that will convert the germanium and silicon dioxide in the glass scraps into chlorides. The chlorides of these elements are easily separated via distillation and can be further purified for the production of new fiber-optic cables. Parallel to the pyro-metallurgic process, the mechanical processing of fiber scrap is also being explored. Of particular interest is the cost-effective separation of glass particles and the plastic coating that is generally difficult due to the small size of the fiber scraps.
Duration: October 2014 - End of 2017