The University of Birmingham has announced a three year research project with luxury car manufacturer, Bentley Motors. Funded by the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV), the project will focus on delivering a sustainable source of rare earth magnets for Bentley’s new electric and hybrid vehicles.
Rare Earth Magnets
Despite the misleading name, Rare Earth Magnets are found in most UK appliances that use electricity to create motion. The sustainable materials are becoming increasingly popular, particularly as the UK moves towards a low carbon economy. That being said, these magnets are rarely, if ever, recycled. In fact, only 1% of the rare earth magnets used in the UK are effectively recycled.
The RaRE (Rare-earth Recycling for E-machines) project has received £2.6m from OLEV, and is also supported by Innovate UK. The aim of the project is to create the first end-to-end rare earth magnet supply chain in the UK.
The RaRE team is building on a foundation of knowledge formed by Professor Emeritus Rex Harris and Professor Allan Walton of Birmingham’s Magnetic Materials Research Group (MMG). The academic duo are the only researchers in the UK which have delved into the notion of recycling rare earth magnetic materials.
HyProMag ltd., a company set up by the researchers involved in the project, is central in creating the link between the RaRE project and Bentley motors. Nick Mann, Operations General Manager at HyProMag, explains: “RaRE is an exciting project and a fantastic opportunity […] We are proud to be working with established, innovative and renowned companies in the RaRE project with whom we can showcase the technologies of the RaRE project as a whole – recycled magnets being used for cutting edge products in a prestige application.”
The technology that recycles rare earth magnets is called Hydrogen Processing of Magnet Scrap (HPMS). The process extracts rare earth magnets from waste electronics by blending them into a powder, which makes separation easier. The technology was patented by the University of Birmingham, and licensed by HyProMag.
The project aims to focus on the magnets found in computer hard drives, extracting them to be used in Bentley motors. HyProMag will help scale up the recycling techniques to suit a larger demand.
The process will also involve blending cast alloys with secondary materials, in order to produce the sintered magnets.