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Rare-earth recycling: challenges and opportunities

Rare-earth element (REE) magnets are essential in defense and clean energy applications. The demand for these magnets is expected to follow the growth of the clean energy sector (EV, wind turbines). Since more than 90% of the world's REE magnet production capacity is dominated by China, which is constrained by governmental export quotas, future supply availability is uncertain. At the same time, the magnet end- of-life, industrial scrap and swarf market in US, Europe and Japan is increasing.

There are thus opportunities to establish a local REE magnet supply chain with a lower environmental footprint. Magnet- to-magnet and magnet-to-alloy recycling routes are less probable due to the constant evolution of magnetic materials and the loss of performance of reprocessed magnetic alloys. Elemental recycling using a chemical process to recover the REE used to make magnetic alloys is a promising route. For a successful approach, challenges to address are:

  • Variability of the scrap/swarf composition

  • Volatile REE prices

  • Operating costs

  • Environmental impacts.

Geomega developed a process to recover rare-earth oxides (Nd/Pr, Dy/Tb) from magnet waste that is cost-effective and suitable for most types of scrap/swarf. This process bears minimal effluents, waste, and GHG emissions compared to primary production and other proposed elemental recycling approaches.

The presentation will focus on the market trends in permanent market recycling, the challenges with various technologies and how implementing a versatile process will help grow and diversify the supply of EOL and scrap magnets.


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