Rare earth metal recycling project gets the go ahead at University of Birmingham

Written by: Editorial staff | Published:
Neodymium magnets

A rare earth metal recycling pilot project has been set up by University of Birmingham to reclaim the elements from scrap metals.

The facility will focus on recycling magnets made of neodymium, boron and iron found in hard disk drives, household appliances, electric vehicles and wind turbine generators.

Just less than £5m has been granted to the university by the EU’s Horizon 2020 project SUSMAGPRO (Sustainable Recovery, Reprocessing and Reuse of Rare-Earth Magnets in a Circular Economy).

A robotic sorting line will locate and concentrate the magnets from scrap at Tyseley Energy Park in Birmingham, with recycling facilities extracting the metal alloy powders which will be used to manufacture recycled magnets in plants in the UK, Germany and Slovenia.

The project will also introduce a new process which uses hydrogen to break down the magnetic metal alloys into powder rather than disassembly and removal of the magnet.

This saves time, labour and money and allows the recycling unit to process multiple items at the same time.

Professor Allan Walton, from the School of Metallurgy and Materials at the University of Birmingham, is one of the inventors of the process.

He said: “Rare earth magnets are used in practically every application that uses electricity to produce motion and underpin industries that are worth more than £1trn worldwide.

“However, both the price and supply have fluctuated considerably over recent years. This means there is considerable opportunity for cost-efficient technologies, which make recycling viable in the long-term.”

China produces around 80% of the world’s rare earth metals yet currently less than 1% is recycled.

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