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Sustainable Recovery, Reprocessing and Reuse of Rare-Earth Magnets in a Circular Economy (SUSMAGPRO)

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - SUSMAGPRO (Sustainable Recovery, Reprocessing and Reuse of Rare-Earth Magnets in a Circular Economy (SUSMAGPRO))

Reporting period: 2020-12-01 to 2022-05-31

Europe lacks major Rare Earth Element (REE) deposits worth exploiting and is therefore dependent on imports. To reduce this dependency, SUSMAGPRO develops a stable secondary material source for REE by developing and demonstrating innovative pilot plants at Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) 6–7 for the clean and sustainable recycling of these most critical of the CRMs from secondary EoL sources in the EU. Highly efficient circular-economy recycling routes for the transportation, water pump, audio-systems, and wind-turbine sectors will cover all steps from design, recovery at EoL, reprocessing, remanufacture, to demonstration, representing the whole value chain.

Apart from the technical challenges associated with recycling permanent magnets, the question of customer acceptance of recycled products in terms of magnetic properties, corrosion resistance, and consistency of supply will be tackled not just by demonstrating the recycling processes at pilot scale, but also by including recycled magnets in demonstration products for three of the largest market segments for permanent magnets: automotive systems, water pumps and audio loudspeakers.

These actions are supported by an overarching communications and dissemination concept including a public roadshow, which will display sustainable technologies based on full-scale demonstrators to a broader audience to build customer confidence in these new products, collect feedback on product consistency, alter perceptions of recycled products as being inferior, and address concerns over security of supply.
SUSMAGPRO has ten specific objectives that cover four areas: Technical Objectives (TO), Economic Objectives (EO), Environmental Objectives (ENO) and Societal Objectives (SO). Since project start, the following work has been carried out:

TO1: An innovative pilot sensing and robotic sorting line has been constructed that will locate and concentrate Nd-Fe-B-magnet-containing components by separating collected waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). A prototype line has been assembled and testing with moderate quantities of scrap from different WEEE sources is under way. The line is designed in a modular and transportable manner, allowing on-site segregation of magnet-containing scrap, i.e. in computer server farms.

TO2: Development and scale up of two pilot-scale facilities (UoB, UK and MGI, Slovenia) to extract Nd-Fe-B magnets from pre-processed components using the Hydrogen-based Processing of Magnet Scrap (HPMS) technology is under way to reach TRL 7–8 by project end, allowing to process 50 t/yr of clean Nd-Fe-B powders from the components identified in TO1 and sourced within the project and externally. Components have been designed, ordered and are currently assembled. A third, smaller pilot for integrated HPMS recycling/metal injection (SDS) feedstock production in Germany that will be capable of 10 t/yr is partly under construction, partly assembled and running.

TO3: The development of four pilot remanufacturing processes that convert the extracted Nd-Fe-B materials into either refined and purified cast alloys or magnets in sintered, injection-moulded or metal-injection-moulded forms at three different sites across the EU is proceeding in a timely manner. First re-manufactured EOL-magnets are tested in collaboration with the end-user companies to show they meet industry standards for OEM components.

TO4: The production of 500 demonstrator components for motors, water pumps and loudspeaker modules as well as end-user sensor applications based on recycled magnets to gain user acceptance for recycled products has started with design and production of magnets of two demonstrators, and vital additional preparation work is done in TO1-TO3. Analyses of more than 120 scrap sources and setup of a comprehensive database which contains all information about chemical, geometrical and magnetic properties of EOL magnets, of the resulting HPMS powders and of the re-manufactured magnets lays the foundation for re-designing existing and new products to make magnet recycling easier, and contributes to future standards for recycling-friendly designs.

EO1: An analysis of the market to determine the geographical locations, volumes, chemical compositions, and positions in the applications for scrap Nd-Fe-B magnets, focusing initially on the HDD, automotive, loudspeaker, water pumps and wind-turbine sectors, later extending this to other economically relevant forms of scrap has started.

EO2: First data to produce a long-term business plan extending beyond the lifetime of the project for exploitation of the SUSMAGPRO manufacturing and recycling processes has been generated and is continuously updated.

ENO1, 2 & 3 (to reduce the environmental impacts and health risks related to the presence of metals like REEs, to reduce the energy consumed in, and the environmental damage associated with, the mining and refining of REEs and to reduce the amount of waste related to Nd-Fe-B applications by improving primary production recyclability) run in parallel with the TO's and EO's in LCA and TEA studies. Comprehensive data has been generated and is continuously updated.

SO1: To raise awareness by communicating findings to the general public, university/research/industry, local and national governments and the EC through policy briefs, reports, trainings and a roadshow concept- is addressed through various activities (press releases, social media, website, print materials, scientific papers, attendance to conferences and a public roadshow in various European cities).

SO2: Clustering and synergy activities with related national and H2020 projects, ERMA, EIT KIC raw materials, non-EU initiatives such as REIA and global-standards organisations have been implemented.
SUSMAGPRO’s ambition is to revolutionise how magnets are recycled. It’s short-loop reprocessing routes will enable the EU to gain a better foothold in the world-wide renewable energy systems (RES) device markets and achieve the future of zero-carbon mobility and energy.

Robotic sorting in combination with new sensor arrays will allow fast, high-yield sorting of today’s and future’s WEEE sources, the highly effective HPMS process combined with innovative coating removal methods will provide the secondary raw material not only for established magnet production routes like polymer bonding and sintering, but also for the innovative, waste-free SDS process. Re-casting of secondary Nd-Fe-B will enable high-grade sintered magnets for high-tech applications, blending of the recycled materials with NdH2 or primary alloys allows to tailor permanent magnets to specifications matching requirements of a series of standards, from consumer-oriented applications such as loudspeakers to more demanding sectors such as drive motors and wind turbines, where field strength and temperature resistance are at a premium.

Combined with an ambitious programme to design future applications for easier recycling and the evaluation of new processes like hydrocyclone separation of the Nd-rich phase from secondary materials or the extruding of magnetic shapes in the SDS process for new applications, the project will extend the availability of raw materials for permanent magnets and initiate their adoption into a range of new magnet products for the EU.
The SUSMAGPRO Consortium
The SUSMAGPRO Remanufacturing Approach
The SUSMAGPRO Short Loop Recycling Route