Stena Recycling has participated in the EU-funded project REE4EU, which has tested several new recycling neodymium methods.
– In the project, neodymium magnets have been recovered from wind turbines delivered by Stena Recycling. They have been recycled into new magnets with quality features. This has been made possible by several process steps, which begin with the dissolution of the magnets in acid and end with electrolysis at high temperatures.
Same quality as new neodymium
The result is a metal alloy that is suitable for producing new neodymium magnets, says Björn Hall.
Fourteen companies participated in the international project. The process has been carried out on a pilot scale at Elkem in Norway, which carried out a large part of the experiments. Sintef in Norway has, among other things, developed the method for electrolysis at high temperatures, and Tecnalia in Spain has developed the technology for dissolving the magnets.
The results show that recycled neodymium is of the same high quality as that made from virgin materials. It can also be produced with 35% less energy consumption compared to the production of brand new neodymium in China.
Wide use but no recycling
Neodymium magnets are powerful and are useful in everything from mobile phones and computers to electric cars and wind turbines. Recycling is currently non-existent in the EU, and China dominates global production. Besides, international use is pointing sharply upwards. The EU sees neodymium and other rare earth metals as the most critical substances to access.
– Increased recycling in the EU is essential to reduce the dependence of neodymium on many products manufactured by industry. Not least, the Corona pandemic shows how sensitive we are to disruptions in raw material and material flows. Material recycling also reduces the significant environmental impact that characterizes neodymium magnets' production from virgin raw materials.
Increased use of neodymium with electrification
Björn Hall also says that manufacturers of products with electronics want to show that they can produce more circular materials and put more recyclable products on the market.
– The rapidly growing production of electric vehicles dramatically increases the demand for neodymium magnets. Today, the focus is on batteries and the recycling of lithium and cobalt. Interest is also growing in how neodymium in electric motors must be handled. Even today, the automotive industry uses more neodymium than any other electronics industry combined.