A plasma furnace recycling rare metals


In order to better meet the needs of energy transition, researchers at the University of Liège are developing a prototype of a multi-purpose plasma furnace for the recovery and recycling of rare metals at the Liège-based company, Hydrometal.

Relatively rare metals such as lithium, nickel, manganese and cobalt, many of which are mined outside of Europe, are used in large quantities in the construction of wind turbines. And with the multiplication of these, it is estimated that, by 2040, the needs will be such that the supply of certain metals will become so scarce that the only sustainable solution can be envisaged through the use of a much more systematic recycling process. Energy transition cannot continue without an ever more circular economy.

In order to recover these rare metals without using chemical processes alone, members of the University of Liège Centre for Research in Metallurgy (CRM) have just developed a prototype plasma furnace which is unique in Europe. The pilot phase for this project is currently underway at the Hydrometal company in Engis (in the province of Liège).

Heated to very high temperatures by a combination of electric arcs, this furnace volatilises certain metals, the particles of which are then recovered in filters before being purified. Other metals are recovered in their liquid or even gaseous state.  Chemical treatment is then required in order to return them to their solid state.

In the future, this type of furnace should therefore meet the very high industrial demand for these rare metals.