Beryllium and the Environment
Beryllium is lightweight and recyclable, important to the environmental impact of any of its end-use applications. You’ll also find it at the center of exciting developments in alternative energy.
Beryllium is lightweight. Beryllium parts reduce the weight of end-use products like cars, trucks and planes, often resulting in better fuel economy. Relative to previous materials, copper beryllium alloy bearings and components can reduce the weight of a typical commercial aircraft by about 3,000 pounds. Annually over the commercial fleet, that means a savings of 3.3 million tons of jet fuel and 11 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
Beryllium is recyclable. Because beryllium is valuable, it is often recycled. In fact, beryllium is recyclable over and over. Clean scrap beryllium metal and alloys containing beryllium can be sold back to the industry for direct recycling into new products. Beryllium is also reclaimed from products that have reached the end of their life cycle and efficiently returned to the manufacturing stream through recycling. It requires significantly less energy to produce recycled beryllium compared to making beryllium from ore.
Beryllium is in alternative energy. Beryllium ceramic is used in concentrator photovoltaic cells that generate electricity from solar power, boosting the efficiency of the cells by more than 40%. Alloys containing beryllium can be found in connectors used in thin film solar energy technologies. Beryllium metal is used to control the punishing high-temperature plasma found in fusion reactors, which may prove to be the clean, virtually unlimited energy source of the future.
Beryllium makes convergence easier. The unique performance package offered by copper beryllium: strength, conductivity and corrosion resistance, enable consumer electronics products to continue to miniaturize and converge multiple functions – phone, camera, MP3 player – into one device with a longer working life. Making fewer single-feature devices saves raw materials, energy and ultimately, landfill space.
Beryllium saves fuel. The use of beryllia ceramic in early electronic ignition systems led to a 20% increase in automotive fuel efficiency. That breakthrough, in other words, amounted to a savings equivalent to taking one of every five cars off the road. More recently, alloys containing beryllium are enabling all-electric and hybrid electric vehicles to operate reliably at high voltages.
Returning beryllium mining sites to nature. The only beryllium mine in production in the United States, operated by Brush Resources Inc., in Utah, has an active and successful reclamation program to return mined land to its natural state. The Brush mine site is home to many wildlife species.