22 February 2021

Delivering a recycling supply chain for magnets

The University of Birmingham and Bentley Motors have launched a three-year research project to deliver a sustainable source of rare earth magnets for electric and hybrid vehicles.

© Sajad Nori/Unsplash

The £2.6m RaRE (Rare-earth Recycling for E-machines) project is funded by the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) and delivered in partnership with Innovate UK, and involves six partners who will work together to establish the first end-to-end supply chain of recycled rare earth magnets in the UK.

Currently, fewer than than 1% of these magnets are recycled. 

RaRE will build on work by Professor Allan Walton and Professor Emeritus Rex Harris FIMMM of the University’s Magnetic Materials Group. The technology, called Hydrogen Processing of Magnet Scrap (HPMS), extracts rare earth metals from waste electronics by breaking them into a powder that is easily separated from remaining components.  

The project will develop a process to recycle magnets extracted from computer hard drives to make rare earth magnets for use in bespoke ancillary motors, and will involve spin out company HyProMag scaling up the recycling techniques developed at the University of Birmingham. 

The University will also provide cast alloys, which HyProMag will blend with secondary materials in order to produce the ‘sintered’ magnets, which are formed by press moulding the metal powders.

Nick Mann, Operations General Manager at HyProMag, said, ‘[The] recycling technologies allow us to produce NdFeB magnets with a much lower embedded carbon cost than using virgin supply and with independence from Chinese supply.’

In addition to the University, Bentley and HyProMag, the other partners in the RaRE project are -

  • Unipart Powertrain Applications Ltd, which will lead the development of manufacturing scale up routes to ensure facilities and processes defined are suitable for volume automotive manufacture.
  • Advanced Electric Machines Research Ltd, leading on the design and development of the motors.
  • Intelligent Lifecycle Solutions Ltd will pre-process computer hard disk drives to remove the rare earth magnet containing components from the waste, which will be shipped to HyProMag for recycling of the rare earth magnets.