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New Recovery Processes to produce Rare Earth -Magnesium Alloys of High Performance and Low Cost

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - REMAGHIC (New Recovery Processes to produce Rare Earth -Magnesium Alloys of High Performance and Low Cost)

Reporting period: 2015-09-01 to 2017-02-28

REMAGHIC is focused on contributing to Europe’s rare earth recovery and magnesium recycling technologies, improving the efficiencies of these processes and advancing the technology readiness levels for a new generation of industrial processes that will produce new low cost competitive alloys for a wide variety of sectors across Europe’s manufacturing value chain.
The project motivation lies on the fact that magnesium alloys can offer a significant weight reduction when compared to aluminium alloys. Weight reduction is a cross sectorial key design driver, if a superior energy absorption and vibratory behaviour is added, then magnesium becomes a promising candidate for future application. However, this entails that some of its drawbacks have to be overcome, such as its cost, manufacturability problems, corrosion and creep behaviour and low allowable service temperature. Addition of rare-earth elements (REE) improves the performance of Mg alloys significantly, though a price increase has to be taken into account. REMAGHIC believes that by investing in recovery and recycling technologies, a new alloying process can be developed to yield low cost Mg+REE alloys.Even though there are many Mg+REE alloys in the market, none of these is obtained from fully recovered/recycled raw materials.
REMAGHIC will contribute to the penetration of magnesium alloys in important sectors for the European industry (Transport, Energy, Biomedicine); it will foster the work done by Tier1s, and promote the interest of different OEMs on future generations of light structural components of competitive performance (that of primary Mg+REE alloys), low cost (that of primary Mg) and weight reduction (30%).This will encourage further improvements in these technologies thanks to finding new markets and applications that will foster the recovery of different REE.
The reasons why this project is important for society are technical (fostering recycling activitities to support Europe’s circular economy, producing high performance low cost alloys based on secondary raw materials, and recover rare earths), environmental (REE recovery processes provide important benefits with respect to air emissions, groundwater protection, acidification, eutrophication, and climate protection) and strategic (strengthening of Europe’s Industrial Competitiveness and sheltering Europe from its dependency of exterior sources).
The main objective is to develop a new efficient recovery process that joins the recovery from magnesium dross and scrap to the recycling of industrial waste residues to produce new low cost Mg + REE alloys that will be the base for new applications in the transport, energy and biomedical industries thanks to their improved mechanical performance with lower weight.
Besides Project Management (WP7) and Dissemination (WP6) Work Packages, the main work packages that have been producing results during this period are WP1, WP2 and WP3 and WP5.
The first task in WP1 was devoted to evaluate different waste streams and their rare earths content. The outcome was a waste classification according to the concentration of the most interesting REE for the project (Y, Ce, La), taking into account the information about the presence of other REE. The most interesting REE-containing waste streams were found to be: fluorescent lamp phosphors, cathode ray tubes (CRT) phosphors and NiMH batteries. Task 1.2 was devoted to the Balance Problem, which is the balance between the demand by the economic markets and the natural abundance of the rare earth elements (REEs) in ores, and it is a major issue for REE suppliers. In task 1.3 the treatment of the residues with different processes and chains of processes is taking place. These processes include solvometallurgical and ionometallurgical methods, molten salts processes, HydroWEEE process and high temperature processes, as well as different combinations between processes that might be found more efficient depending on the waste streams. Task 1.4 will decide the best process combination for each selected REE.
WP2 is focused on the magnesium recycling methodologies. The first task of this work package has been dedicated to analyze the dross and sludge and the scrap resulting from Grupo Antolin magnesium process, in order to later optimize the process. With the information obtained in the previous task, the most adequate technique for recycling has been developed in task 2.1. Finally, task 2.3 has produced a Mg recycling test unit.
WP5 is devoted to the LCA analysis of the REE recycling processes (Task 5.1) and to the Mg recycling process (Task 5.2) with a final analysis of the Mg+REE alloy overall process (Task 5.3). The first analyses and updates of models from task 5.1 and 5.2 have been carried out during this period.
The REMAGHIC innovation potential can be summarized as follows:
Related to REE supplier chain, keeping the REE markets in balance is of strategic importance, not only to secure the supply of all REE required for technological and other applications, but also to avoid dramatic price shocks for critical REEs. Different solutions have been proposed to solve the Balance Problem: diversification of REE resources, recycling or recovering process, substitution or reduced use of the main demanded REE , and develop new high volume applications. With the REMAGHIC proposal 4 of these 5 solutions will be taken into account. Related to the recovery processes for rare earth elements, new processes will be evaluated introducing innovative solvents and using current developments with different industrials wastes than those for which these processes were initially developed.
For the recycling process of magnesium, increasing the efficiency of the process and its technology readiness level will be the main innovation. New stirring systems remain the best option to get the expected result.
Finally, the most important innovation will come through the alloying processes: even though there are many Mg+REE alloys in the market, none of them is obtained from fully recovered/recycled raw materials. The development of an alloying processes that takes into account a different variety of recovered REE, and includes recycled Mg (assessing its quality meets the same standards as a primary Mg) is totally unprecedented, and as the Market Innovation will demonstrate, will have an important impact on the European Manufacturing Industry.
Regarding the market innovation, there are currently some applications in the automotive, aeronautics and energy markets that use Mg+REE alloys, however these applications are found only in elite vehicles, general aviation small aircrafts and wind turbines under research. The same happens in the biomedical market, though magnesium is predicted to be poised for growth and substitution of titanium, and mentioned in many research initiatives, it has not reached massive figures in production volumes.
This project will contribute to the penetration of magnesium alloys in important sectors for the European industry; it will foster the work done by Tier1s, and promote the interest of different OEMs on future generations of light structural components.