Leading UK metal recycler, EMR, the University of Birmingham Department of Materials and specialist magnet recycler, HyProMag Ltd have announced a new partnership, part funded by Innovate UK, to create a supply chain for the recycling of high-strength rare-earth magnets.
The Rare-Earth Extraction from Audio Products (REAP) project will help the UK to start reducing its reliance on the mining of strategically important virgin materials such as neodymium and dysprosium. The nine month REAP project will focus on magnets found in loudspeakers in audio equipment and vehicles but the project outcomes will have a range of wider applications. This includes in the recycling of cars where rare earth magnets are used in motors for power steering, compressors and increasingly the main drives of electric vehicles.
Rob Chaddock, Strategic Development Manager at EMR, said:
“The challenge for our research and development team is that these magnets have been designed to stay in one place as part of a single solid unit. We need to develop clever and cost-effective ways to disassemble these technologies which retains the integrity of the material. Rare-earth magnet extraction requires the sophisticated analytical facilities and academic expertise available from the University of Birmingham, together with the recovery technology and knowhow developed by HyProMag. When the team has a commercially-viable proof of concept then EMR will put it into action.”
China currently dominates the manufacture of rare earth magnets and the mining of the raw materials that make them. The drive motors for electric vehicles rely on rare earth magnets, so the switch to electric vehicles over the next 15 years means that demand for rare earth magnets will grow hugely and that continued availability is strategically important to the UK. Recycling of rare earth magnets in the UK potentially offers an alternative and secure source of supply.
Rob Chaddock added:
“These materials are sourced in parts of the world where the UK doesn’t have control over the source. There’s a resource security reason why we should not let them leak out of Europe. There are also economic and environmental reasons as recovering these materials from end-of-life waste has a lower carbon impact and lower cost than recovering them from the mining source.”
Nick Mann, Operations General Manager at HyProMag added:
“With demand for rare earth magnets accelerating, it is imperative that we find viable economic solutions to reclaim end-of-life magnets that are currently lost. Current estimates suggest that the recycling rate of rare earth magnets from end-of-life products stands at below 5 percent. The REAP project is focused on one of the biggest potential sources of those magnets, namely loudspeakers. Innovative processes developed to overcome the challenges around extracting magnets from assemblies are integral to the REAP project, and we are very pleased to be working with EMR and the University of Birmingham to further optimise these processes for audio products.”