Uncommon earth magnet recycling expertise branches out

Uncommon earth magnet recycling was put within the highlight in late 2023, when a new expertise from UK startup HyProMag was among the many first to be supported by the Mineral Safety Partnership, a US-led group of 14 international locations centered on sustainable provide of crucial minerals.

However the {industry} remains to be new.

“Most magnets go to landfills at this time,” Mark Jensen, chief govt officer of US battery and uncommon earth recycler ReElement, advised Fastmarkets.

Lower than 1% of end-of-life magnets are recycled yearly, US recycling firm REEcycle estimated.

“One of many causes is that it is vitally tough to recycle a magnet embedded in an meeting in a cost- and energy-efficient manner,” HyProMag CEO Will Dawes advised Fastmarkets.

Uncommon earth magnets for recycling (feedstock) often come from a spread of end-of life merchandise, various in sizes: from round 1 tonne magnets from wind generators to 1 kg magnets in an electrical motor and far smaller magnets from shopper electronics.

Swarf, or offcuts from magnet manufacturing, is one other supply of feedstock for the rising {industry} and praised for being straightforward to work with because it doesn’t want disassembling.

Recycling applied sciences are principally proprietary, however in response to specialised publications they are often categorized into 4 classes:

  • pyrometallurgical (involving heating and smelting)
  • hydrometallurgical (involving specialised liquids akin to acids and different solvents)
  • direct recycling (dismantling and reusing)
  • hybrid processes

“Hydro and pyrometallurgical processes are the most typical now,” Hyeonu Do, from South Korean battery recycler Sebit, advised Fastmarkets. Sebit is contemplating a transfer into the uncommon earth recycling house.

The facility of excessive temperatures

“Pyrometallurgy makes use of numerous vitality in comparison with hydrometallurgy, and if the feedstock will not be managed correctly, the degrees of impurities within the closing product could also be increased,” Do stated. Managing feedstock means separating it by the kind of magnet, he added.

Pyrometallurgical processes have been used, amongst others, by Japan’s Nissan and Hitachi, each corporations stated beforehand.

Nissan is recycling uncommon earth parts from motors that don’t meet manufacturing requirements. After a number of steps, together with guide disassembly and removing of magnets, uncommon earth parts are recovered from molten slag throughout the pyrometallurgical course of. On the time of publication the corporate had not responded to extra questions.

Hitachi Group has used pyrometallurgic expertise to extract uncommon earth magnets from used onerous disk drives, the corporate advised Fastmarkets. However it has additionally used the standard expertise of “different magnet producers” for extracting uncommon earth supplies, that are hydrometallurgic.

Some corporations use heating or sintering expertise, not smelting.

Noveon Magnetic, a US sintered neodymium iron boron (NdFeB) magnet producer, describes their recycling course of as “powder metallurgy” based mostly, which includes heating. The corporate advised Fastmarkets that they count on all of their 2,000 tonnes of 2025 magnet manufacturing to be supported by end-of-life recycled materials.

Quite a lot of liquids in use

Hydrometallurgical applied sciences additionally differ from firm to firm, however have some widespread traits.

“With hydrometallurgy, you want to put together materials and use powder kinds of feedstock to make the response sooner. In an identical manner, granulated sugar takes much less time to dissolve in a cup of tea in comparison with lump sugar,” Do stated.

Established recycling corporations utilizing proprietary hydrometallurgic strategies embody Japan’s Shin-Etsu.

Shin-Etsu has been recycling uncommon earth magnets at its plant in Japan since 2008 and in its Vietnam plant since 2013, an organization spokesperson advised Fastmarkets, declining to reveal manufacturing and recycling capability numbers. Through the recycling course of, Shin-Etsu makes use of acids and different solvents as a part of its filtration course of.

Ionic liquids

UK startup IonicTech makes use of liquid-liquid extraction expertise, which depends on liquid salts and ligands as extractants to chemically separate uncommon earth parts from crushed magnets and swarf. Ligands are ions or molecules that bond with a central steel ion or atom.

Ionic’s demonstration plant in Belfast, which has been working since January 2024, is focusing on output of 10 tonnes of separated uncommon earth oxides yearly, the corporate stated. Ionic partnered with UK producer Much less Widespread Metals to show the oxides into steel and magnet alloy.

“Magnet supplies get demagnetized in an oven, crushed, milled, then digested, so we will separate uncommon earths from base metals, iron and boron,” Ionic CEO Tim Harrison advised Fastmarkets.

“Then the uncommon earth-rich stream is fed into the solvent extraction circuit, the place ionic liquids are used to separate the uncommon earths into their elemental types,” Harrison stated.

In consequence, Ionic can produce larger than 99.5% purity oxides of sunshine uncommon earths neodymium and praseodymium, in addition to heavy uncommon earths dysprosium, terbium, gadolinium and holmium, Harrison stated.

Chromatographic method

One other hydrometallurgical recycler, US agency ReElement, makes use of steady chromatography, a technique utilized within the sugar {industry} to separate glucose and fructose however not utilized by anybody else for uncommon earth recycling, CEO Mark Jensen advised Fastmarkets.

After computerized dismantling and leaching, combined rare-earth-containing liquid is put by a steady chromatography course of to separate the weather, Jensen stated.

ReElement’s chromatography course of includes the uncommon earth combine being launched into columns loaded with specialised resin, which will get washed with an answer to create layered separation of uncommon earth parts and to course of them into excessive purity oxides later, the corporate advised Fastmarkets.

ReElement’s uncommon earth recycling facility within the US will begin up within the second half of 2024, with deliberate capability of 1,000 tonnes of oxides a yr, Jensen advised Fastmarkets. The corporate has a gross sales settlement to produce purified uncommon earth oxides to native junior producer USA Uncommon Earth, ReElement stated in March.

Combined strategies

French uncommon earth refiner Carester is planning to fee a recycling plant in France as a part of its Caremag venture by the primary quarter of 2026, the corporate advised Fastmarkets.

After dismantling, the everlasting magnets are handled mechanically first, after which with a mix of pyro–hydro processes adopted by separation of uncommon earths with a solvent extraction technique, Carester CEO Frédéric Carencotte’s advised Fastmarkets.

Caremag is planning to supply uncommon earth oxides – neodymium, praseodymium, terbium and dysprosium – in Lacq, France, from recycled magnets and from heavy uncommon earth mining concentrates, ultimately ramping as much as recycling 2,000 tonnes of uncommon earth magnets per yr and processing 5,000 tonnes of heavy uncommon earth concentrates.

Within the {industry}, each hydro- and pyrometallurgical processes are referred to as “lengthy loop” recycling, versus “quick loop.”

Each strategies are complementary, Carencotte stated. The lengthy loop technique can settle for every kind of everlasting magnets and gives oxides an identical to these produced from mined materials, requiring metallurgists’ efforts, he added.

However the quick loop technique can recreate the identical kind of magnets with out extra efforts from metallurgists, in response to Carencotte; but after a number of recycling loops, the efficiency of everlasting magnets can deteriorate.

Quick loop, or magnet-to-magnet, recycling

US firm Okon Recycling is utilizing the direct recycling technique for end-of life magnets, which includes demagnetizing, dismantling, harvesting and prepping uncommon earth magnets to be reused, Louis Okon, the corporate’s president, advised Fastmarkets.

Its output is “a whole bunch of tonnes of uncommon earth magnets per yr” and recycled magnets are sometimes reused in an identical product by the unique tools maker (OEM), Okon stated. Unused magnets are equipped as recycling feed for corporations using extra resource-intense magnet manufacturing choices, he added.

“Direct recycling makes use of the least variety of assets to generate a completed product,” Okon stated.

Different “magnet-to-magnet” recycling choices might end in demagnetized uncommon earth alloy powder, as with HyProMag’s technique of hydrogen processing of magnetic scrap (HPMS), developed on the College of Birmingham within the UK.

“Pre-processed scrap containing magnets is put right into a hydrogen vessel, the place hydrogen reacts with the magnets inside to kind an alloy powder, on the similar time demagnetizing the powder,” Dawes stated.

This demagnetizing is vital to recovering magnets, which might be tough to be separated from their environment in any other case, Dawes added.

“Then you possibly can both remake the ensuing powder instantly again right into a magnet, remelt or chemically course of it,” he stated. “A chemical processing pilot plant might be commissioned in Tyseley, Birmingham, UK, in 2024, with a deliberate recycling capability of a minimum of 100 tonnes of magnets a yr,” he stated.

HyProMag plans to fee one other plant in Germany in 2025, with an identical capability of 100 tonnes per yr, then within the US in 2025-2026, with a 500 tpy capability, Dawes stated.

Shoppers in search of supplies that may go straight into manufacturing

Finish shoppers, together with OEMs and automakers, are in search of recycling choices that end in merchandise that may be put again into the availability chain.

“Now OEMs have a larger urge for food to interact in recycling versus mining,” Ionic’s Harrison stated. In his view, that is pushed by the optics round mining, with recycling initiatives offering OEMs with higher sustainability choices.

“Recycling is on everybody’s agenda: you can’t have strategic minerals like uncommon earths getting misplaced in landfill,” Dawes stated.

Automakers are fascinated about high-quality recycled merchandise that may go straight again into manufacturing, recyclers stated.

The standard of oxides that might return into the automakers’ provide chain are “the primary side,” ReElement’s Jensen stated. Harrison agreed with that sentiment, including that “consistency of high quality” can also be essential.

Since dismantling is a pricey and energy-intensive course of, Dawes stated, HyProMag’s “massive answer” is the separation course of leading to magnet powder, which has decrease prices and a decrease carbon footprint in contrast with each lengthy loop hydrometallurgical recycling processes and standard mine-to-magnet manufacturing.

No single greatest manner of recycling

“Presently, there isn’t a cross-industry course of,” a Hitachi spokesperson advised Fastmarkets. “We acknowledge that {industry} guidelines and standardization might be a difficulty sooner or later.”

“Within the forming of provide chains, there’s room for lots of applied sciences that might assist to take care of feedstock with variable uncommon earth compositions,” Harrison stated.

There may be curiosity, not solely from finish customers, but in addition from coverage makers.

On November 13, the European Fee introduced elevated targets for recycling to a minimum of 25% of EU’s annual consumption of uncooked supplies, which is up from 15% introduced in March 2023.

“Magnet recycling might fulfil a portion of whole demand for uncommon earths, and setting targets at 25% is a good place to start out,” Harrison stated.

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