Innovate UK-backed initiative aims to scale up recycling process for rare earth metals used in electric vehicles
A £2.6m project part funded by the UK government to scale up innovative technology that can recycle rare earth magnets for use in electric vehicles (EVs) has been launched by a broad coalition of British companies, with a view to developing a commercial end-to-end supply chain for the process.
Dubbed 'Rare Earth Recycling for E-Machines' (RaRE), the initiative is being supported by a £1.9m grant from government agency Innovate UK, with the five project partners - led by University of Birmingham spin-out HyProMag - stumping up the remaining £700,000.
Other partners include car brand Bentley Motors, automotive specialist Unipart Powertrain Applications, electronic waste firm Intelligent Lifestyle Solutions, and battery motor developer Advanced Electric Machines Research.
"RaRE will for the first time establish an end to end supply chain to incorporate recycled rare earth magnets into electric vehicles, whereby recycled magnets will be built into an ancillary electric motor to ultimately support the development of a commercial ancillary motor suite," they explained.
The project hinges on a patented process developed at the University of Birmingham for extracting and demagnetising particular alloy powders - 'neodymium iron boron' (NdFeB) - from magnets embedded in scrap and redundant equipment.
Once recycled in this way by HyProMag, these magnets can then be built into ancillary electric motors designed by Advanced Electric Machines Research to a specification developed by Bentley Motors for use in producing EVs, the group explained. Unipart's role is then to design a commercial assembly line for the recycled materials capable of producing up to 100,000 units a year.
Nick Mann, operations general manager of HyProMag, said the RaRE project was a "fantastic opportunity to prove the importance and worth of short loop recycled magnetic material".
"NdFeB magnets are essential for many future technologies, and the emerging electric vehicle market is of increasing importance," said Mann. "Being involved at this level means we not only get to work with and supply recycled magnets to some of the most innovative and globally recognised companies, but also allows us to influence the design of products with the aim of making recycling a better option in the future. I believe this is industry, technology, recycling and innovation working together at its impressive best."
Efforts to develop a circular economy for EVs has increasingly come into focus in recent years as the market for battery cars rapidly expands. Just last month Honda Motor Europe announced a partnership with SNAM to recycle end-of-life batteries from hybrids and EVs, joining a growing number of initiatives to extend the life of batteries and ensure they are safely recycled.
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