Ionic Rare Earths launches full-scale production of recycled magnet rare earth oxides at Belfast facility

April 17, 2024

First NdPr oxide (>99.8% grade) production achieved from continuous operations at Ionic Technologies’ Belfast Demonstration Plant (Courtesy Ionic Rare Earths)
First NdPr oxide (>99.8% grade) production achieved from continuous operations at Ionic Technologies’ Belfast Demonstration Plant (Courtesy Ionic Rare Earths)

Ionic Rare Earths Limited, headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, has announced that continuous production of high purity, recycled magnet rare earth oxides (REOs) has commenced at scale at the Demonstration Plant of Ionic Technologies International Ltd’s Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK, facility.

Ionic Technologies recycles Neodymium-Iron-Boron (NdFeB) permanent magnets to high purity separated magnet rare earth oxides (REOs) – enabling the creation of sustainable, traceable, and sovereign rare earth supply chains.

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Ionic Technologies is now a producer of a suite of magnet REOs, including neodymium oxide (Nd2O3) didymium oxide (NdPr oxide), dysprosium oxide (Dy2O3) and terbium oxide (Tb4O7) and is the first to produce such high-quality REO products in the UK.

Ionic Rare Earths’ Managing Director, Tim Harrison, commented, “Our Belfast facility is key to us harnessing our technology to accelerate our mining, refining and recycling of magnets and heavy rare earths which are critical for the energy transition, advanced manufacturing, and defence.”

“The commercialisation of our recycling technology is moving rapidly, and the Board of IonicRE is pleased to announce that Demonstration scale production of NdPr oxides have commenced. It is an important milestone, which exhibits our readiness to supply recycled magnet REOs into the market,” Harrison continued. “Our supply chain partners have expressed significant interest in procuring REOs from secondary sources, and with this milestone, we are confident in delivering a full schedule of magnet recycling campaigns through to mid-2025.”

Ionic Technologies path to production (Courtesy Ionic Rare Earths)
Ionic Technologies path to production (Courtesy Ionic Rare Earths)

The Belfast facility is expected to receive a steady supply in magnets to be recycled from sources such as swarf from existing manufactures of metals alloys and magnets, plus end-of-life turbines from grid-scale wind farms, and magnets and components from used electric vehicles (EVs) and other industries.

Harrison explained, “Demand for material of recycled origin is accelerating to align with global policy priorities and off-taker objectives in order to enter these markets. This is being driven by global policy such as the European Union Critical Raw Materials Act and the US Inflation Reduction Act.

“IonicRE aims to progress the technology with the deployment of modular recycling initiatives in western markets looking to develop domestic, secure, and sustainable supply chains to address strategic supply and sovereign security, placing IonicRE at the epicentre of rare earth element recycling,” he added.

Continuous production achieved

Ionic Technologies commenced operations processing an end of life (EOL) permanent magnet from a decommissioned wind turbine generator. The permanent magnet composition included 26.7% neodymium (Nd), 5.4% praseodymium (Pr), 1.0% dysprosium (Dy) and 1.4% holmium (Ho).

Following the completion of process commissioning, Ionic Technologies has successfully separated NdPr from heavy rare earth elements (REE) DyHo which will undergo further separation to produce high purity Dy2O3 and Ho2O3 product.

NdPr oxalate product produced post separation (Courtesy Ionic Rare Earths)
NdPr oxalate product produced post separation (Courtesy Ionic Rare Earths)

The first production from continuous Demonstration Plant activity has produced approximately 11.5 kg of NdPr oxide grading greater than 99.8% NdPr oxide (total REO content of 99.99%). The production of NdPr oxide at Demonstration Scale follows previous successful production of maiden Nd2O3 grading 99.7% and Dy2O3 grading 99.8%, and Tb4O7 grading > 99.5%.

Initial production of NdPr oxide — and subsequent Dy2O3 and Tb4O7 to be produced — supports Rare Earths Limited’s collaboration with partners Less Common Metals (LCM) and Ford Technologies. Ionic Technologies will supply REOs to LCM, who will produce alloys for magnet production to be developed in Europe, with the sintered magnets to be supplied to Ford Technologies in Halewood, UK, to produce electric motors for evaluation, demonstrating a UK magnet rare earth supply chain as part of a UK government-sponsored CLIMATES initiative.

Following the successful commissioning and first continuous production from the Demonstration Plant, Ionic Technologies is now entering late-stage negotiations in relation to strategically significant production campaigns, with a view to progressing towards commercial agreements to roll the technology out to western end users.

The continuous Demonstration Plant will also support the completion of a Feasibility Study into a commercial scale facility, expected by mid-2024.

Based upon magnet recycling progress, and given the footprint being established in the UK and Europe, the company has also initiated investigating opportunities to advance UK and EU investment market presence, where sentiment and support from the UK government has been very strong.

Separation circuit showing extraction gradient advancing to the right with DyHo (orange organic) being extracted from NdPr rich feed stream (pink) (Courtesy Ionic Rare Earths)
Separation circuit showing extraction gradient advancing to the right with DyHo (orange organic) being extracted from NdPr rich feed stream (pink) (Courtesy Ionic Rare Earths)

The production of REOs and Ionic Technology

Ionic Technologies is a 100% owned subsidiary of IonicRE, based in Belfast UK, which the company acquired in H1 2022. Ionic Technologies has developed rare earth element separation and refining technology and applied this to the recycling of spent permanent Neodymium-Iron-Boron (NdFeB) magnets.

The process uses a hydrometallurgical process to extract the rare earth elements, then separate the individual magnet REEs within – Nd, Pr, Dy and Tb – and finally refine to high purity individual magnet rare earths oxides.

In September 2022, IonicTech was awarded a grant of £1.72 million (approximately AUS $2.9 million) from the UK government’s Innovate UK Automotive Transformation Fund Scale-up Readiness Validation (SuRV) program. This is a significant step towards securing the UK supply of critical rare earth metals for EV manufacture.

In September 2023, Ionic Technologies announced it had successfully secured additional funding for two Innovate UK CLIMATES grants totalling £2 million (AUS $3.9 million). The successful grant funding submissions centred on two CLIMATES projects:

  1. In partnership with Less Common Metals (LCM) and Ford Technologies, Ionic Technologies will develop a traceable, circular supply chain of rare earths for application in EV motors within the UK
  2. In partnership with the British Geological Survey, Ionic Technologies has commenced a feasibility study for a commercial magnet recycling plant in Belfast, UK

The magnet recycling Demonstration Plant will provide the data for the development of commercial facilities.

The Ionic Technologies magnet recycling process is agnostic on magnet quality, can process oxidised magnets, and can also manage coatings and films, to produce individually separated and refined high purity REOs.

Technology overview

Since its founding in 2015, as a spinout from Queens University Belfast (QUB), Ionic Technologies has developed processes for the separation and recovery of REEs from mining ore concentrates and waste permanent magnets.

The technology developed is a step up in efficient, non-hazardous, and economically viable processing with minimal environmental footprint.

Ionic Technologies has demonstrated capability for REEs to achieve near complete extraction of REO’s from lower quality spent magnets and waste (swarf) to a recovery of high value REO product quality exceeding 99.9% REO.

Ionic Technologies now has ‘first mover’ advantage in the industrial elemental extraction of separated REOs from spent magnets and waste, enabling near-term magnet REO production capability to satisfy growing demand from the energy transition, advanced manufacturing, and defence.

Ionic Technologies proprietary technology provides a universal method for the recovery of high purity grade rare earth elements from lower quality and variable grade magnets, to be used in the manufacture of modern high-performance and high specification permanent magnets required to support substantial growth in both electric vehicle and wind turbine deployment.

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