United Kingdom: Recycling of Rare Earth Magnetic Materials for Luxury Cars

The University of Birmingham and Bentley Motors have agreed to a three-year research project called “Rare-earth Recycling for E-machines” (RaRE), which intends to deliver a sustainable source of rare earth magnets for electric and hybrid vehicles.

Rare earth magnets play a vital role in almost every appliance that uses electricity to generate motion. In the past three decades, their use has increased exponentially. Although they are increasingly important in the transition to a low carbon economy, less than one percent of these magnets is recycled, the university described the situation.

As reported, the 2.6 million pound sterling (about 3.6 million US-Dollar) RaRE project is funded by the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV). The project delivered in partnership with Innovate UK involving six partners who will work together to establish the first end-to-end supply chain of recycled rare earth magnets in the UK.

The research project will build on a technology developed by Professor Allan Walton and Professor Emeritus Rex Harris of the University’s Magnetic Materials Group. The technology was patented by the University of Birmingham Enterprise and subsequently licensed to HyProMag Ltd, a company set up by the Birmingham researchers. HyProMag has since received substantial investment from Mkango Resources, which will be funding HyProMag’s contribution to RaRE.

The extraction process
The technology, called Hydrogen Processing of Magnet Scrap (HPMS), extracts rare earth metals from waste electronics by breaking them into a powder. The powder is easily separated from the remaining components, the University wrote. Accordingly, the project develops a process to recycle magnets extracted from computer hard drives to make rare earth magnets for use in bespoke ancillary motors. That involves HyProMag scaling up the recycling techniques. The University of Birmingham will also provide cast alloys, which HyProMag will blend with secondary materials to produce the ‘sintered’ magnets, which are formed by press molding the metal powders.

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

  • Unipart Powertrain Applications Ltd, leading the development of manufacturing scale-up routes to ensure facilities and define processes, 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.


(Published in GLOBAL RECYCLING Magazine 2/2021, Page 18, Photo: HyProMag)