Recycling International: Commercial opportunity for water-based rare earths solution

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Researchers at the U.S.-based Critical Materials Institute (CMI) at Iowa State University are commercializing an innovative method of recycling rare earth metals by extracting them directly from scrap magnetic batteries.

A big advantage compared to other approaches is that the solution used to dissolve the magnet waste using water rather than acid so it is said to be eco-friendlier and more efficient. The technology developed at CMI, a US Department of Energy innovation hub led by the Ames Laboratory, is being licensed to Iowa-based TdVib, a specialist in magnetically activated smart materials and electromagnetic technologies.

"We take that shredded mix and we put it in solution that targets the magnets that contain the rare earths and leaves the rest of the components undissolved," says Ikenna Nlebedim, CMI’s lead researcher on the recycling project. "With the rare earth in solution, we filter off the rest of the e-waste and later pull the rare earths out of the solution. And that’s how we do our recycling. It’s a very efficient and robust process."

Dan Bina, president and CEO of TdVib, is optimistic that upscaling the process from the lab to a commercial operation will be successful: "It is typical for efficiency to decrease during scaling of new processes but we have observed the opposite with the acid-free dissolution process without compromising the purity."

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