Automated Light Bulb Recycling
Illuminate is a project that will create a closed automated sorting and recycling system for lamps and light bulbs. As many fluorescent bulbs contain highly toxic mercury, it is essential that this recovery and processing happens securely without the risk of releasing mercury into the environment.
Currently there are 600 million lamps and bulbs sold annually in Europe. The number of end-of-life fluorescent lamps in Europe will steadily grow from today’s levels of 150 million annually to a peak in 2020 of 800 million. This will put an increased demand on collection, recycling and material recovery, including the capture of critical rare earth materials. Current light bulb recycling methods often give rise to extensive lamp breakage, materials contamination, and mercury emissions which may cause severe environmental impact, processing difficulties and lower materials value in the recycling step. Recycling operations in many European countries usually handle mixed fractions of bulb types which is then subjected to materials separation and recycling. In a mixed stream it is difficult to accurately detect/identify bulbs that contain mercury due to the vastly varying nature of the waste stream. Illuminate aims to remedy these issues.
The concept of the Illuminate project is to develop methods and processes for two main areas of the supply chain: collection of the waste streams and sorting of the waste, then develop automated systems that are able to effectively sort bulbs into different classes and remove foreign objects. This is essential for an economically viable process. The unit will be a multisensor system being able to rapidly recognize different types of lamps in the waste stream. Once the identification and separation has been achieved the materials from both mercury containing and non-mercury containing waste streams can then be handled by the appropriate processing steps in order to cost effectively recycle the waste bulbs.
The key enabling process is an automated sorting step which can rapidly and accurately identify and sort mixed lamp types into pure streams for dedicated pre-processing treatments. By adjusting the collection methods and hardware to the downstream processes, a seamless integration of collection, transportation, sorting, and pre-processing steps will be obtained. This will facilitate lamp waste treatment, maximize the recovery rates for glass, metals, plastics and critical rare earth materials and improve the working environment. Connected to the unit will be subsequent treatment lines adjusted to the specific and sorted fractions. RELIGHT have recycling facilities in Italy and will host demonstration equipment that will allow the performance of sensor, separation and collection to be demonstrated in an industrial environment providing a key step in the commercialisation of the technology.
The Illuminate project will deliver efficient technologies capable of significantly and measurably reducing the ecological impact of material contamination during waste lighting collection and storage. Early implementation of the developed sorting technology will increase purity of end fractions and will help to shield European recycling SMEs from the threat of tightening regulations. The technology will additionally deliver substantial improvements in resource efficiency and benefit a large number of SME’s throughout the supply chain. It is the view of the participants that to achieve only recycling of lamps to low value outlets is not ambitious, and that the industry should be seeking to recover valuable materials back to a high value use. The partners in the Illuminate project will hope to develop technology that can be exploited by the SMEs involved creating opportunities for growth within these companies. This growth will be derived from the manufacture of the high tech systems required to sort and recycle the vastly increasing number of waste lamps, resulting in skilled jobs in the manufacture, operation and maintenance of these systems.
Co-funded by the European Union under the Framework 7 Programme.