RaRE project aims for electric motors from waste

Birmingham University and Bentley Motors have embarked on a project to deliver a sustainable source of rare earth magnets for the marque’s electric and hybrid vehicles.

rare earth magnets
Bentley sets out path to sustainable, recyclable electric motors (Image: Bentley Motors)

The £2.6m RaRE (Rare-earth Recycling for E-machines) project – funded by the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) and delivered in partnership with Innovate UK – involves six partners who will establish the first end-to-end supply chain of recycled rare earth magnets in the UK.

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Rare earth magnets are increasingly important in the transition to a low carbon economy but less than one per cent of these magnets is recycled.

The three-year RaRE project will build on technology developed by Professor Allan Walton and Professor Emeritus Rex Harris of the University’s Magnetic Materials Group , which is Britain’s only research group focussed on processing and recycling permanent rare earth magnetic materials.

The technology – Hydrogen Processing of Magnet Scrap (HPMS) – extracts rare earth metals from waste electronics by breaking them into a powder that is separated from remaining components.

The technology was patented by University of Birmingham Enterprise, and licensed to HyProMag, a company set up by the Birmingham researchers. HyProMag has since received 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 Birmingham University.

The University will also provide cast alloys, which HyProMag will blend with secondary materials to produce the ‘sintered’ magnets that are formed by press moulding the metal powders.

In a statement, Nick Mann, operations general manager at HyProMag, said: “RaRE is an exciting project and a fantastic opportunity. HyProMag’s recycling technologies allow us to produce NdFeB [neodymium iron boron] magnets with a much lower embedded carbon cost than using virgin supply and with independence from Chinese supply and we are working closely with our major shareholder Mkango Resources to further grow the business.”

Partners in the RaRE project include Unipart Powertrain Applications, Advanced Electric Machines Research, and Intelligent Lifecycle Solutions, which will pre-process computer hard disk drives to remove rare earth magnet containing components.