Germanium Recycling is probably not a flashy news topic at your local Television station. It may not be trending today in your newspaper headlines. Thus you might be surprised to know how important this chemical element, Germanium, has become in your daily life. In this blog article, we bring you news about its critical 21st-century role. We invite you to learn about the exciting re-cycling Germanium mission we adopted 12 years ago and continue today.
Surprise! Seeing Germanium at Work in Your Everyday World
First of all, civilization uses Germanium to produce and manufacture semiconductors. This takes about 15% of the available metalloid.
Secondly, it plays a large role in manufacturing fiber optic systems.
Thirdly, we create specialized glass-clad single-crystals from the element for different military applications. To put it briefly, manufacturers add Germanium oxide to glass. This process increases the refraction index of the glass. Then, we can use it in wide-angle lenses and infrared devices.
Fourthly, manufacturers put this pure element in specialized detectors for the precision detection of radiation resources.
Special Metalloid Helps the Space Effort
Thus, you see a whole host of high tech uses for Germanium:
- It is in the fiber optic cable connecting your computer to the internet,
- There it is in LED lights.
- And of course, it’s in infrared night vision systems.
Likewise, Germanium helps our satellites and space probes through the science of space photovoltaics. So how can it help our Mars rovers? “Germanium wafers are installed as a layer in PV solar panels, allowing them to derive electricity from sunlight and maintain activity.”
There’s good reason for utilizing Germanium in the cells that power our Mars rovers. You see, conventional technology converts 12-15% of their received sunlight into electricity.
However, Germanium cells “achieve up to 40% efficiency levels…”
Giant Germanium Factoids You Should Know: Science 101
Small facts can build giant knowledge. Below we are listing a few physical and chemical characteristics of this amazing element.
- In its purest form, you would see it as hard and gray-white. You would find it similar to silicon in chemical composition.
- It is a “metalloid,” meaning it is an element with characteristics shared by both metal and non-metal.
- You might wonder how the element got its name. The Russian Chemist, Mendeleev first theorized the existence of Germanium when “he discovered there was a gap between silicon and tin on the periodic table. At first, he named it eka-silicon.” Then, he later changed it to Germanium in honor of the homeland of Clemens A. Winkler who was the first scientist to isolate it in 1886.
- Perhaps you would be surprised to discover Germanium is resistant to both acids and alkalis with the notable exception of nitric acid.
- No doubt its diamond-like crystalline structure would fascinate you.
9 Radioactive Isotopes
There are 9 radioactive isotopes in Germanium. However, Germanium is stable in water and air. It is a largely used metalloid in manufacturing and production, as you discovered in our previous paragraphs detailing its 21st-century uses. Here’s a current break-down:
- 35% in the fiber-optics industry
- 30% infrared optics
- 15% polymerization catalysts
- 15% solar electric and electronics
The remaining 5% feeds the fields of metallurgy, chemotherapy, and phosphors.
Conservation: A Critical Issue for the US in the 21st Century
No doubt, you now see the value of Germanium. Where do we find it? It is a by-product of mining as well as coal burning. “Zinc smelting” produces the largest amount of this element. Additionally, it also has been recovered at some copper smelters and from the fly ash of coal-burning industrial powerplants.” In the United States, germanium is recovered from zinc smelter residues and manufacturing scrap. It is further refined by two companies at four germanium refineries.
China’s Big Advantage in the Germanium Market
Thus, in 2020, it was no surprise that “China was the world’s largest Germanium producer. They refined some 86 metric tons. Keep that in mind because “global production…” “reached only 130 metric tons in that year…”
In fact, China dominated the supply at 58% for many years. So, will we have to rely on them and perhaps pay exorbitant tariffs on this valuable element forever? No. Proper conservation and recycling can make help us maintain sufficient recycled Germanium to meet our rising manufacturing and technological needs.
Here at ER Precision Optical, we have developed a safe and efficient way to recycle Germanium optics. Such optics have a radioactive thorium coating.
This was previously thought to help increase transmission through the optic. In an interview, CEO, Mark Hess described the process of recycling this metalloid.
Here is how E.R. Precision Optical has been working to recycle it from old, obsolete military assets:
1. “For the last 12 years ER Precision Optics has been taking old obsolete military assets and carefully removing the germanium lenses and windows…”
2. Next, we clean away the glue or gaskets…”
3. Then, we remove the radioactive coatings with our proprietary process, approved by the Florida Department of Health.
4. Then, we re-melt “good clean scrap Germanium.”
5. “In the final steps of the procedure, we use the recycled element to make new optics for the military at significantly reduced pricing.”
Balancing Tariffs against Recycling:
Mark Hess stated, “ER has done this with the M-60 tank, M1A1 Tank, B-52 Bomber, and the Bradley Fighting vehicle and many other programs.” He went beyond the manufacturing, and chemical aspects of Germanium, to explain some of the financial challenges we are facing as we make this element sustainable.
- “The market has been so dominated by China that a 25% tariff was added to their products containing Germanium. So, in 2019, US companies gained a chance to compete in that area.
- Likewise, “in an effort to stabilize prices, China set aside 141 million dollars to subsidize the interest on any loans taken out by Chinese companies that stockpiled Germanium during the pandemic.”
Bidding For the Future
The Defense Logistics Agency put out “bids with the Strategic Materials Group to perform the destruction of old military assets for the reclamation of the germanium optics.” He added, that the reason for this bidding is so that “the scrap can be zone refined into ingots.”
Then, they are to the US stockpile for “future use in the space program.”
Ultimately, Mark Hess concluded, “We have literally taken multiple semi-truck loads of old military assets that were stored in radioactive facilities for years.” And we “turned them into a five-gallon bucket of waste, doesn’t get much greener than that.”