Oct. 23, 1997 ATLANTA -- An innovative process from Bell Labs is making it possible for Lucent Technologies to improve the recovery and recycling of an important natural resource -- germanium -- from the waste products of optical-fiber manufacturing and to save millions of dollars at the same time.
Bell Labs is the research and development arm of Lucent Technologies.
In optical-fiber manufacturing, a silicon-containing vapor, such as silicon tetrachloride, and a germanium-containing vapor, such as germanium tetrachloride, undergo a high-temperature chemical reaction with oxygen to produce silicon oxide - germanium oxide glass.
The precise use of these vapors allows control of the refractive-index profile of an optical fiber, so the lightwave signals traveling through the fiber will stay within the fiber’s core for hundreds of miles. This use of germanium accounts for more than 35 percent of today’s global industrial consumption.
Optical fiber, hair-thin ultra-pure glass, is used in communications systems to carry voice, data and video signals that have been converted into the ones and zeros of digitized information and transmitted as pulses of light.
Its use has increased dramatically in the past decade and is increasing at an accelerated rate. "Worldwide, the rate of optical-fiber manufacturing exceeds 1,000 miles an hour, every hour of every day. By the turn of the century, that number is expected to double," said Alastair Glass, director of Bell Labs Photonic Components Research Lab.
The Bell Labs recovery process is part of a system that removes all hazardous wastes from the gases exhausted from fiber manufacture.
"This timely development represents a significant contribution to the environment," said David Kalish, Optical-Fiber Development and Engineering director, Network Systems - Lucent Technologies. "Moreover, the recycling of germanium has allowed us to continue to serve our customers at a time when germanium has been in short supply."
Optical fiber is about 96 percent silicon dioxide (the main component of sand) and about 4 percent germanium dioxide, with small amounts of other elements.
Lucent Technologies, a global leader in optical-fiber manufacturing, has recovered germanium from fiber-optic production since the mid-1980s. Lucent’s Atlanta Works was the first optical-fiber manufacturing facility to recycle germanium.
The process was improved significantly in 1995, with the recovery and re-use of more than 70 percent of the wasted germanium, resulting in multimillion-dollar savings in germanium purchase costs. Improvements to the process now underway will bring the percentage recovery to more than 80 percent
The germanium-recovery process was developed by Bell Labs researchers Dave Mixon and Mike Bohrer, of the Polymer and Chemical Engineering department, and scaled up for commercial operations in collaboration with colleagues Lisa Green and Ed Nelson of the Optical Fiber Development and Engineering organization in Lucent’s Network Systems operating unit.
Lucent Technologies designs, builds and delivers a wide range of public and private networks, communications systems and software, consumer and business telephone systems and microelectronics components.
More information about Lucent Technologies, headquartered at Murray Hill, N.J., is available at http://www.lucent.com.
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