The University of Birmingham had announced a three-year research project with Bentley Motors to deliver a sustainable source of rare earth magnets for electric and hybrid vehicles for the luxury car brand.
The £2.6m RaRE (Rare-earth Recycling for E-machines) project is funded by the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) and delivered in partnership with Innovate UK, and involves six partners who will collaborate to establish the first end-to-end supply chain of recycled rare earth magnets in the UK.
Rare earth magnets are found in almost every appliance that uses electricity to generate motion. Over the last 30 years their use has increased exponentially, and although they are increasingly important in the transition to a low carbon economy, less than 1% of these magnets are recycled.
RaRE will build on technology developed by Professor Allan Walton and Professor Emeritus Rex Harris of the University’s Magnetic Materials Group, the only research group in the UK focused on processing and recycling of permanent rare earth magnetic materials.
The technology, called Hydrogen Processing of Magnet Scrap (HPMS), extracts rare earth metals from waste electronics by breaking them into a powder that is easily separated from remaining components.
The technology was patented by University of Birmingham Enterprise, and licensed to HyProMag Ltd, the company that was set up by the Birmingham researchers. HyProMag has since received substantial investment from Mkango Resources, which will be fully funding HyProMag’s contribution to RaRE.
The project will develop a process to recycle magnets extracted from computer hard drives to make rare earth magnets for use in bespoke ancillary motors, and will involve HyProMag scaling up the recycling techniques developed at the University of Birmingham.
The University will also provide cast alloys, which HyProMag will blend with secondary materials in order to produce the ‘sintered’ magnets, which are formed by press moulding the metal powders.
“We are excited to be supporting this innovative project as part of our ambition to put the UK at the forefront of the design, manufacture and use of zero-emission vehicles,” said Jon Bray, research and development anager, Office for Zero Emissions Vehicles.