Mkango reports UK production of recycled rare earth magnets under HyProMag

December 13, 2023

The UK’s first rare earth magnet recycling pilot plant at the University of Birmingham in 2022 (Courtesy University of Birmingham)
The UK’s first rare earth magnet recycling pilot plant at the University of Birmingham in 2022 (Courtesy University of Birmingham)

Mkango Resources Ltd, headquartered in Vancouver, Canada, has announced the first production runs of recycled rare earth magnets completed at the Tyseley Energy Park rare earths hub in Birmingham, UK. The announcement marks the first UK production of sintered rare earth magnets on commercial scale equipment in over twenty years, and it was stated that commercial production is now targeted for mid-2024.

Production of recycled rare earth magnets at Tyseley is being developed by the UK’s University of Birmingham and HyProMag, which is owned by Mkango’s 79.4% held subsidiary, Maginito Limited.

Will Dawes, Chief Executive of Mkango shared, “This is a major milestone for the Company, HyProMag and for the UK, creating a strong platform to advance to commercial production and for the scale-up and roll-out of HPMS technology into Germany, United States and other jurisdictions. HyProMag’s recycling technology has major competitive advantages versus other recycling technologies, and is a key enabler for the cost effective and energy efficient separation and recycling of rare earth magnets, avoiding the need for dismantling, and enabling the production of magnets with a significantly reduced carbon footprint.”

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Further production runs are planned in the coming weeks to provide customer and project partner samples. Commercial production at Tyseley will start with an initial throughput of 20 tonnes per annum of rare earth magnets and alloys. This will be scaled up to a minimum of 100 tpa in the following months. Larger scale-up scenarios of up to 1,000 tpa are currently under evaluation.

HyProMag is the main industrial partner for the Tyseley development and holds the exclusive license for underlying the Hydrogen Processing of Magnet Scrap (HPMS) technology. This technology, originally developed at the University of Birmingham, is now being commercialised by HyProMag. HPMS is a new recycling technology that preserves the quality of the original magnets for reprocessing, offering a cleaner and more energy-efficient alternative to traditional dismantling, thermal demagnetisation, and cleaning processes. This technology also lends itself to automated and efficient processing. The resulting recycled magnets are being made to recognised industrial grades.

Nick Mann, Operations General Manager of HyProMag commented, “Beginning production on commercial scale equipment is very exciting for all of us at HyProMag. We are receiving strong market interest to begin delivering recycled magnets to customers at scale – being able to start that over the coming months will be extremely positive.  We also look forward to implementing the lessons learned as we see equipment arriving in Germany next year and in the USA soon afterwards.”

The Tyseley model forms the basis for the development of magnet recycling and manufacture in Germany by HyProMag in 2024. It also serves as the foundation for the 2025/2026 development of a multi-spoke and hub operation in the United States through the joint venture with CoTec Holdings Ltd.

The remaining equipment and infrastructure at Tyseley are expected to be commissioned in the coming weeks, underpinning the subsequent transition to commercial production. The recycled raw material used for these initial production runs came from wind turbine magnets, voice coil assemblies from hard disk drives, and production scrap which was processed through the existing recycling pilot plant commissioned at the University of Birmingham in 2022, and subsequently transported for short loop magnet manufacture at Tyseley.

Professor Allan Walton, Head of the Magnetic Materials Group, University of Birmingham, and founding Director of HyProMag added, “A huge amount of work has been carried out over the last year on the existing pilot plant at the University of Birmingham to produce a spectrum of NdFeB magnets with a range of magnetic grades. This has allowed us to test recycled magnets in a range of products for the first time with extremely encouraging results. The installation of the new equipment at Tyseley Energy Park has allowed us to prove that these properties can be achieved on a commercial scale for the first time on automated equipment. This is a massive step forward and re-introduces commercial sintered magnet manufacturing back into the UK for the first time in over twenty years.”

HyProMag is reportedly attracting considerable interest from potential customers for its recycled magnets, paving the way for the transition to commercial operations, and for recycling solutions from original equipment manufacturers, and automotive and recycling companies looking for a low-cost and energy efficient circular solution for magnet recycling that does not require dismantling.

The magnets produced at Tyseley were of commercial grade, featuring a square loop with good coercivity (resistance to demagnetisation) and remanence (magnet strength), which are key measures of magnetic performance.

In addition to providing feed during the commissioning phase of the Tyseley development, the pilot plant at the University of Birmingham has enabled the testing of various scrap streams and the production of a diverse range of products since its commissioning in 2022. This has generated operational data to aid the scaling up and commercialisation of operations.

Furthermore, over 3000 finished rare earth magnets have been produced by HyProMag and the University of Birmingham from recycled HPMS powder produced for project partners and potential customers from the pilot scale equipment to date. These magnets are being tested in a wide range of applications including multiple automotive, aerospace, electronics applications, and others planned. This provides invaluable marketing and technical information, further supporting the scaling up and commercialisation of operations.

In addition to producing finished magnets, the University of Birmingham’s pilot plant has created alloys for remelt testing and chemical processing, maximising the flexibility of the product suite and the ability to process different scrap streams. Mkango is also developing another pilot plant at Tyseley for long loop recycling through a chemical process. This complements the HyProMag short loop recycling process and will also be commissioned in the coming weeks. Materials for chemical processing, including swarf (the powder produced from grinding and finishing magnets), will be processed either in-house by Mkango or in partnership with third parties.

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