A new project to recycle and process rare earth metal powders could help free up the supply chain for these sought-after materials.

The University of Birmingham, one of the UK’s pre-eminent research locations, was recently awarded €3.9 million to set up a pilot facility to reclaim rare earth magnets from scrap as part of the EU-funded Horizon 2020 project. The project has been launched to develop a recycling supply chain for rare earth magnets in the EU, and to show how the materials could be suitable for a range of industries by piloting a range of different applications. The plan is to identify, separate, recycle and demonstrate recycled magnets at a pilot scale, focusing on multiple sectors, including for example pumps, electronics and wind turbines. The aim is to develop a complete European supply chain that can produce 20 tonnes of recycled magnets a year – materials that would otherwise go to landfill.

According to reports, the project will also develop new sensing and robotic sorting lines for the identification and separation of magnet containing components at end of life (EoL), building upon technologies developed in 2013 by a consortium including C-Tech Innovation Ltd, The University of Birmingham, Stena Technoworld AB, Acreo Swedish ICT AB, Leitat Technological Centre, OptiSort AB, Chalmers Industriteknik, Magneti Ljubljana and Kolektor Magnet Technology GMBH and aimed at dramatically increasing the amount of rare earth materials recovered and remanufactured from existing waste streams.

To kickstart the project, the EU awarded a grant of €14 million to SUSMAGPRO (Sustainable Recovery, Reprocessing and Reuse of Rare-Earth Magnets in a Circular Economy), an industry-based consortium, which consists of 19 project partners and one associated partner from nine European countries. Of this, €3.9 million was allocated to the University of Birmingham, which will use the grant to build a scaled pilot system for technology developed initially at the University based on the patented HPMS process (Hydrogen processing of magnet scrap).

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