A new project led by HyProMag, Birmingham, UK, which has licensed a patented process for extracting neodymium-iron-boron (NdFeB) rare earth alloy powders from magnets embedded in scrap and redundant equipment, will develop technologies for recovering rare earth materials from old equipment and recycling them for use in new electric motors.
According to Drives & Controls, the £2.6 million project, RaRE (Rare-earth Recycling for E-machines), has secured £1.9 million funding from the UK’s government-backed Innovate UK. The remaining £700,000 balance of the project costs is being split between the project partners.
Participating companies include electric motor developer Advanced Electric Machines Research, Volkswagen group luxury car maker Bentley Motors, automotive supplier Unipart Powertrain Applications, and electronic waste processor Intelligent Lifecycle Solutions.
Rare earth materials are used to create permanent magnets used in electric motors and other applications. Electric and hybrid vehicles may contain large quantities of these magnets in applications such as drive motors, fans, generators, power steering, pumps, seat motors and loudspeakers.
China currently dominates the global supply of rare-earth materials due to being home to the majority of the natural rare earth deposits in the world, and may raise their prices dramatically during periods of tension, meaning that the global supply of rare earths is unstable. Few companies currently recycle rare-earths because of technical difficulties in separating magnets from waste.
HyProMag’s process for extracting NdFeB rare earth alloy powders from scrap and redundant equipment is called Hydrogen Processing of Magnet Scrap (HPMS), and was originally developed by the University of Birmingham’s Magnetic Materials Group. The RaRE project aims to establish an end-to-end supply chain to incorporate recycled rare earth magnets into ancillary motors, primarily for electric vehicles.
HyProMag reportedly plans to scale up the HPMS process and convert rare-earth materials into new magnetic materials at pilot scale to demonstrate the quality of the materials, in terms of their magnetic behaviour, mechanical performance and corrosion resistance. Intelligent Lifecycle Solutions will establish the scrap-sorting process to maximise its efficiency and the volumes of the rare earth materials produced.
Advanced Electric Machines will develop an ancillary electric motor to a Bentley specification in which the new magnetic materials will be applied. A key aim of the project is said to be to reduce the complexity of electrical systems in electric vehicles.
It is thought that this will be the first time that such a motor containing recycled rare-earths will have been produced. To demonstrate the motor’s feasibility for real-world production, Unipart Powertrain Applications will reportedly design a flexible assembly line with the capacity to produce 100,000 of the motors every year.
“RaRE is an exciting project and a fantastic opportunity to prove the importance and worth of short loop recycled magnetic material,” stated Nick Mann, HyProMag’s Operations General Manager. “NdFeB magnets are essential for many future technologies, and the emerging electric vehicle market is of increasing importance.”
“Being involved at this level means we not only get to work with, and supply, recycled magnets to some of the most innovative and globally recognised companies, but also allows us to influence the design of products with the aim of making recycling a better option in the future,” he added. “I believe this is industry, technology, recycling and innovation working together at its impressive best.”
HyProMag will contribute £281,879 to the project, funded by a £300,000 investment in the company made in January 2020 by Maginito, a subsidiary of Mkango Resources, Vancouver, Canada, giving it a 25% stake in the business. Mkango Resources explores for rare-earth elements and associated minerals in the African state of Malawi.
“We are very excited about this innovative project and the opportunity to scale up and commercialise the HPMS technology,” stated William Dawes, Mkango’s CEO. “We envisage that recycling of rare-earth magnets will play a key role in the development of robust supply chains to catalyse and support growth in the electric vehicle sector and in other clean technologies.”