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Gallium is expected to replace silicone in critical power system semiconductors in the near future due to gallium’s comparatively superior characteristics of a wider band gap, faster switches, lower heat loss, and smaller space requirements. However, there are limitations when it comes to recovering gallium and establishing a circular supply chain for gallium products.
In the new ReGaIL project, HSSMI will work together with S2S Electronics (lead partner), Envaqua, E.C. Williams, the Institute of Material Finishing (IMF), and Recolight, to develop a recovery process for gallium from bulk sourced end-of-life (EoL) LED products. The recovered gallium will then be used in a compound of gallium nitride (GaN) as a semiconductor in power electronics, machines, and drives (PEMD). These smaller, lighter-weight semi-conductors are a vital part of electric vehicles. GaN also holds the potential to facilitate electric vehicle uptake by contributing to their efficiency, as well as more convenient charging infrastructure and faster charging solutions.
Due to a lack of natural sources of gallium in the UK, it is vital to identify ways of capturing maximum value from gallium through recovering and recycling. Alternatively, as the demand for gallium increases, the UK would need to resort to importing and sourcing gallium from abroad. At the moment, gallium is only recovered from fine dust particles that are produced during manufacturing and there isn’t a company in the world that recovers gallium from end-of-life products. This creates a potential competitive advantage for ReGaIL consortium partners and the UK overall, as the project will look specifically into recovering gallium from products at their end-of-life.
ReGaIL will commence by examining the current state of gallium recycling in the UK and LED end-of-life practices. Then the consortium will work to create a consolidated and tested process flow for extracting gallium from LEDs, which can then be electroplated and distributed for PEMD production purposes. The recovery process flow will be tested and validated via a discrete event simulation, designed by HSSMI. The simulation will help assess the commercial viability of the recovery process and highlight any challenges in terms of scale up of this process at higher volumes.
By advancing existing gallium recycling methods and expanding upon them to encompass end-of-life LEDs, thus diverting them away from the landfill, the ReGaIL project will establish a circular supply chain for gallium in the UK. This will help avoid the need for extracting raw gallium, increase the UK’s supply chain resilience and decrease new resource dependency. Moreover, the project will introduce innovative solvent technologies into recycling and reuse strategies and develop improved recovery processes with higher performance, safety, and environmental sustainability standards.
HSSMI Electrification Manager Joe Turner says about ReGaIL, “It is exciting to be part of such an innovative project like ReGaIL. Its ambition to help strengthen the UK supply chain for electric vehicles, their components and PEMD in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic is invaluable. We have to look at how we move on from here, leverage our knowledge as a consortium and look at pathways that have not been explored until now.”
This project is co-funded by Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency.