Recycled magnets gain rare metals from WEEE

A rare-earth magnet recycling pilot plant is planned for the University of Birmingham.

Rare earths are used in magnets in electronic devices and the process will recover them from end-of-life electric motors, electronic waste and components, recovering neodymium, iron and boron.

These will then be recycled into commercial-grade magnetic materials, the university said.

Professor Allan Walton, co-director of the Birmingham Center for Strategic Elements and Critical Materials, said: “This pilot plant paves the way for the UK to play a leading role in the recycling of high performance magnets.

Walton said it was vital to develop a sustainable supply of these materials and reduce reliance on virgin mined metals.

The plant will use a patented process, developed by the university, in which hydrogen liberates and breaks down used magnets into an alloy powder for remanufacturing.

Called “magnet waste hydrogen treatment”, it was first tested in the laboratory using an old washing machine drum to extract rare earth alloys from products such as hard drives, high- speakers and electric motors.

Following initial successes, the technology was rolled out to the pilot project.

A 1200 liter pressure vessel will be used to process up to 100 kg of magnets per day.

The resulting powder is demagnetized during this process and can therefore be refined before going through pressing and sintering, in which the recovered materials are compacted and heated to form new magnets.

Life Cycle Solutions will supply the hard drive scrap, while European Metal Recycling will supply the speaker sets.

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