Recycling Rare Earth Magnet Materials
By: Mike Guthrie, VP Engineering
Recycling rare-earth metals from magnets would provide a steady, domestic source of rare earths to manufacturers while also reducing waste. The availability and costs of rare earth (RE) materials required for the production of NdFeB permanent magnets have become somewhat unstable lately due to very large withdrawals from limited sources. Magnet recycling can help mediate these instabilities and also ease the negative environmental impact of rare-earth mining.
- Some customers require the use of recycled RE elements in their magnets. This has helped speed (forced) the development and launch of recycling operations.
- The addition of recycled rare earths to the market will reduce the overall cost of RE materials and will also reduce supply chain insecurities.
- Recycling RE magnets will reduce the requirement for RE mining. Conventional mining and ore-reduction processes can be large polluting operations.
Why not recycle:
- Long-term sources of EOL magnets must be located and logistics established for their use.
- EOL NdFeB magnets (from disc drives, industrial/EV motors, et al) are enveloped in Nickel, Copper, Zinc, Epoxy and a host of other coatings. Must the coatings be removed? If so, how?
- Magnet production processes must be modified for the retrieval of factory magnet scrap. Reclamation of ingot and cut-ends can be cumbersome. But collection of the cutting and grinding swarf, resulting from the complete fabrication processes, requires much more effort.
- The packaging and shipment of small-particle, RE materials that result from cutting, grinding & jet milling operations sometimes cause trepidation in safety, fire prevention, & explosion personnel.
- Currently, there are very few companies that supply recycled RE materials in sufficient quantities, and to the required quality standards, for the NdFeB industry’s needs.
- Recycled RE materials are currently more costly. The time, capital, and resources required for research, production, procurement, & shipping also incur additional expense.
- Even the very best reclamation facilities typically have some waste. How to reduce that waste? What to do with any contaminating coolant oils and reclamation-process materials?
While the industry is still in its infancy, the demand for recycled RE materials is large and growing rapidly.