A new rare-earth magnet recycling process developed by researchers at the Critical Materials Institute (CMI) dissolves magnets in an acid-free solution and recovers high purity rare earth elements. For shredded magnet-containing electronic wastes, the process does not require pre-processing such as pre-sorting or demagnetization of the electronic waste.
Rare earths are vital to many technologies and are critical ingredients in the world’s strongest magnets, but they are subject to supply shortages. Recycling is a possible solution to the supply-chain problems, but until now has faced serious economic and ecological challenges. CMI, a U.S. Department of Energy Innovation Hub led by Ames Laboratory, was able to overcome several hurdles to the environmental viability of rare-earth recycling with this processing technology, according to lead researcher Ikenna Nlebedim.
“The difficulty with traditional hydrometallurgical methods for rare-earth magnet recycling is that they rely on the use of hazardous mineral acids, and this presents a number of problems from an economic and environmental standpoint,” said Nlebedim. “It produces toxic fumes; the acids need to be contained, and so do acid-contaminated wastes.”