Consumption patterns



LED-products contain many valuable resources which are designated critical metals; specifically gold, silver, tin, indium, gallium and several rare earth metals, are regarded as critical due to supply risk and economic significance for the electronics industry.

The projected expansion of LED markets will lead to a rise in demand for these materials. However, current pre-treatment and recycling processes are just partially suited to recycle those materials and the multitude of elements combined with low concentrations makes material recycling difficult. Therefore, a material flow analysis (MFA) was conducted to understand and quantify the material flows along the life cycle of LED-products in Europe. The aim was to:

  • identify the magnitude of material required, recycled and lost at European level with current state of the art recycling and production technologies
  • narrow down the list of materials of interest by the significance of the material flows
  • identify knowledge gaps for further research in the cycLED project
  • identify “hot spots” for the optimisation of the materials flow along the life-cycle of LED products

The material flow analysis showed that out of all target metals the most significant mass flows are the precious metals gold (Au) and silver (Ag), tin (Sn) and the rare earth metals yttrium (Y) and lutetium (Lu), whereas the flows of europium (Eu), cerium (Ce), indium (In) and gallium (Ga) are less significant (Figure 1). The material amounts in LEDs and LED-products imported from outside Europe are larger than the amounts bound in end-of-life products. Using current pre-treatment and end-treatment methods just gold, silver, copper and, to a certain degree tin are recycled from end of life products and production waste. Probably all of the gallium and rare earth metals bound in end of life LED-products will be lost, some of the indium might be recycled (which is not represented by the model). Before the actual treatment a fair share of the material in end of life products is already lost because it is not collected so that the products do not enter the recycling chain.

Reliable and robust information on the recycling of indium and gallium from highly enriched manufacturing waste coming from the LED chip production could not be obtained, so that the recycling rate was set to zero in the model. There is at least a high recycling potential as for example just half of the gallium feedstock ends up in the product during LED chip manufacturing. Unfortunately, over 90 % of the LED chips are manufactured outside Europe so that this potential cannot be lifted within Europe. One of the main research questions is how to recycle the rare earth metals which are bound in LED products. Here you can learn more about recycling.

  Figure 1: Share of cycLED target material consumed along the life cycle phases manufacturing, collection, pre-treatment and end-treatment, bound in LED-products put on the market as well as recycled from manufacturing scrap and end-of-life LED-products in 2020 in Europe
  For more information please contact: Max Marwede (max dot marwede at izm dot fraunhofer dot de)