The University of Birmingham, UK, announced a three-year research project worth £2.6 million with Bentley Motors to deliver a sustainable source of rare earth magnets for its electric and hybrid vehicles. The project, RaRE (Rare-earth Recycling for E-machines), is funded by the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) and delivered in partnership with Innovate UK and will involve six partners working together in establishing the first end-to-end supply chain of recycled rare earth magnets in the UK.
Jon Bray, OLEV’s R&D Manager, stated “We are excited to be supporting this innovative project as part of our ambition to put the UK at the forefront of the design, manufacture and use of zero emission vehicles.”
Rare earth magnets are used in almost every appliance that uses electricity to generate motion; in the last three decades, that use has increased exponentially. Despite becoming increasingly important in the transition to a low-carbon economy, less than 1% of these magnets are recycled.
RaRE will branch off of the technology Hydrogen Processing of Magnet Scrap (HPMS), developed by Professor Allan Walton and Professor Emeritus Rex Harris of the University of Birmingham’s Magnetic Materials Group, which extracts rare earth metals from discarded electronics by reducing them to powder. This is then easily separable from other components.
This technology was patented by the University of Birmingham enterprise and, subsequently, licensed to HyProMag Ltd, the rare earth magnetic recycling company set up by the Birmingham researchers. HyProMag has since received substantial investment from mining venture Mkango Resources, headquartered in Calgary, Canada, which will be fully funding HyProMag’s contribution to the RaRE project.
RaRE aims to develop a process of recycling magnets extracted from computer hard drives (with a scaled-up HPMS technique) to make rare earth magnets used in bespoke ancillary motors. The university will also provide cast alloys which will be blended with secondary materials which will then be pressed and sintered into magnets.
“RaRE is an exciting project and a fantastic opportunity,” stated Nick Mann, HyProMag Operations General Manager. “HyProMag’s recycling technologies allow us to produce NdFeB magnets with a much lower embedded carbon cost than using virgin supply and with independence from Chinese supply and we are working closely with our major shareholder Mkango Resources to further grow the business. We are proud to be working with established, innovative and renowned companies in the RaRE project with whom we can showcase the technologies of the RaRE project as a whole – recycled magnets being used for cutting edge products in a prestige application.”
Alongside the university, Bentley, and HyProMag, the companies collaborating in the RaRE project are: Unipart Powertrain Applications Ltd, Coventry, West Midlands, UK, which will lead the scaling of the manufacturing, ensuring facilities and processes are suitable for industrial automotive manufacture; Advanced Electric Machines Research Ltd, Washington, Tyne and Wear, leading on the design and development of the motors; and Intelligent Lifecycle Solutions Ltd, Williamstown, Rhondda Cynon Taff, Wales, will process computer hard drives to remove elements containing rare earth magnets before shipping these to HyProMag.