The ReGaIL project explored and proved that it is possible to recover gallium from end-of-life LED (light-emitting diode) lamps so that it can be used in second life applications, such as in semiconductors for power electronics, machines, and drives (PEMD).

To better visualise the gallium recovery process, HSSMI was tasked with producing a simulation of a conceptual recovery facility, which provided a holistic view of the process. HSSMI used digital tools to highlight issues, answer questions, and solve potential problems that may occur as the recovery process is scaled up towards a high production scenario. The final simulation included flexible parameters that allowed for input of future trial data and further scenario testing.

The Challenge

As gallium recycling is an entirely new process, there was limited quantitative data surrounding both the processes and technologies involved. Some of the project technologies are in early development stages and various process variables are currently under investigation, being refined, and adjusted to find the most efficient ways of recovering gallium from LEDs. This increased the level of complexity and created a need for adaptability and flexibility in the simulation. Some assumptions had to be made to develop the first iteration of the simulation, particularly with regards to certain process times and the facility layout.

The Approach

During the initial stages of the project, HSSMI engaged with project partners and stakeholders to collect relevant information for each stage of the process – including details on the process itself, as well as equipment and personnel necessary, and waste generated in each stage of the process.

Based on research collected from the data gathering phase, a 3D model of the conceptual facility and holistic process was constructed using AnyLogic simulation software.

The simulation intended to identify the volume of gallium that can be recovered when upscaling the recovery process to a mass production level facility. The process was split up into several steps, and the LED lamps were moved through the facility and processed in accordance with conversion rates and various data collected during ReGaIL project trials. The simulation produced an output volume of gallium, which was determined based on factors such as amount of LED lights, volume of LED chips per light, volume of gallium per LED chip, and distributions of lamp types (e.g., industrial and domestic lamps). As the simulation runs, the user can visually see the yield recovered from the process via line graphs, integrated within the simulation.

The simulation was modelled in a way that allows for future flexibility, and the ability for the user to adjust parameters and run further experiments. Flexible parameters in the simulation included (but were not limited to):

- Amount of gallium recoverable from 1kg of LED chips

- Scheduling functionality for delivery of LED lights and other waste from electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) to the facility across the year

- Volume of LED lights

- Concentration of LED chips within lights, from both industrial and domestic lights

- Conversion rates including amount of gallium recoverable from LED chips, as well as further metals, such as indium, silver, and gold

- Current market price for gallium and other metals

- Processing times

During the project, it was identified that other metals in addition to gallium, such as indium, gold, and silver, could be extracted from end-of-life LED lights. The simulation incorporated this functionality to be able to gather insights and the potential profitability from the extraction of these other metals, as further trials are being conducted to assess the feasibility.


The Results

During the project, the simulation provided a means of exploring the gallium recovery process from start to finish and assessing the overall potential yields from the process. Due to its customisable functions, the current simulation could potentially be expanded as further research and learnings are gained.

Moving forward, as this work has shown, digital tools can be used not only to forecast potential yields of new recovery concepts, but also to optimise, balance, and improve efficiency of facilities, and understand how to efficiently upscale innovative recovery processes, such as the gallium recovery process developed in the ReGaIL project.

More Information

The gallium recovery process is explained in more detail in the process cost and waste analysis available here.



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