New project launches focusing on the sustainable reprocessing of rare-earth magnets

On June 3-4, 2019, the first phase of a four-year EU-funded research and innovation project began with a kick-off event in Pforzheim, Germany. The project, called SUSMAGPRO (Sustainable Recovery, Reprocessing and Reuse of Rare-Earth Magnets in a Circular Economy) was granted funding from Horizon 2020 programme of the European Commission and consists of 19 project partners and one associated partner from nine European countries.

The partners, including the School of Metallurgy and Materials at the University of Birmingham represent stakeholders from industry, academia, and technology transfer organisations and gathered for the first time in Pforzheim in June to discuss their challenges, expectations, and overall management for the project. SUSMAGPRO’s Coordinator is Pforzheim University (Germany), represented by Professor Carlo Burkhardt of the Institute for Precious Metals and Technology. SUSMAGPRO’s ambition is to revolutionise how magnets are recycled. It tackles the important challenge of recovering and reprocessing rare-earth-elements (REEs) from performant magnets, which currently have a recycling rate in Europe of < 1%. These materials are critical components of several high-tech industries, such as automotive, aerospace, e-mobility, wind power generation, and consumer goods.

Each year, these industries require 2,000–3,000 tonnes of REEs to be imported, since Europe doesn’t have REE resources on its own, which puts its permanent magnet manufacturing base in a very vulnerable position. The SUSMAGPRO project will attempt to reverse this by seizing the opportunity to begin reclaiming the tens of k-tonnes of magnets already imported into Europe in millions of devices as they come to the end of their useful life, activating a circular economy business model. Instead of dumping this critical resource in landfill sites or exporting REE-containing waste to other parts of the globe, SUSMAGPRO will use the latest technology to extract the elements from magnets scrap, and will use short-loop circular economy routes to re-integrate the metals into new products for the European market.

“In view of the current discussions about import tariffs in the Trump trade war, China is considering restricting exports of rare earths to the US. European industry would also be severely affected, so this matter is unfortunately more pressing than ever”, says Professor Burkhardt.

SUSMAGPRO’s overall objective is to develop and demonstrate four novel pilot-plant solutions for the clean and sustainable recycling of permanent magnets at Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) 6–7 (technology or system prototype demonstrated in relevant / operational environment). In doing so, secondary REE material will be remanufactured into new magnetic products, which will eventually be displayed in a travelling roadshow in the second half of the project. Such novel activities will take place over the whole value chain, and solutions created will enable Europe to gain a better foothold in the worldwide renewable energy systems (RES) device markets, enabling the future of zero-carbon mobility and energy. 

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 821114.