Keywords: acid-free selective leaching, rare-earth permanent magnets, rare-earth recovery, sustainability, rare-earth elements (REEs), critical materials, reclamation
Summary:Statement of the Problem REECCycling Inc.’s novel technology will contribute to establishing a resilient supply chain for rare-earth elements (REEs) and other critical materials in the U.S., significantly reducing the reliance that now creates high vulnerability to foreign control of rare-earth metals—the ‘vitamins of a modern society.’ REEs enable advanced manufacturing, clean transportation, efficient computing, power generation, energy storage, industrial automation, national defense, and high-tech consumer electronics. Successful deployment of environmentally friendly/energy-efficient technologies is limited by REE availability—negatively impacting national energy independence, security, and the economy. How the Problem is Being Addressed: Novel Rare-Earth Metals Recycling Process REECCycling is commercializing a robust, environmentally-benign acid-free dissolution recycling (ADR) process that enables recovery of high-purity REEs from waste materials. It is the only technology known that selectively/efficiently recovers REEs from wastes without limiting further recycling of the other waste components. Current Developments The ADR technology has demonstrated to be suitable for application in simple and complex types of e-waste containing REEs. Feedstocks included hard disc drives, drones, speakers, hand tools, electric vehicle motors, and cell phones. REEs were recovered from a complex waste stream containing two magnet compositions, showing the technology’s robustness. The ADR process has shown to be even more effective when applied to non diluted sources such as scrap magnets or magnet swarf. Hundreds of kilograms of feedstock materials were processed and rare-earth oxides with purity between 99.7 – 99.9% were recovered. These oxides have been processed by a third party in a commercial reduction facility to produce magnet metals that were then used to produce high grade neodymium magnets. At present, REECCycling is building a pilot plant to characterize the operation and economics of large scale commercial processing. Initial testing and then soon to follow limited production is scheduled for the second half of 2022. Commercial Applications and Other Benefits Of the >15.25 billion pounds of e-waste generated in the U.S. in 2019, ~13 billion pounds remain unrecovered, and the lack of robust technology limited REE recovery for re-use from the 15% that was recovered. Commercializing the ADR process will greatly reduce these environmental pollutants while recovering high-value materials critical for U.S. technology manufacturing, the economy, and national security. The ADR process has the potential to reclaim and provide up to as much as 25% of the US annual consumption of REE used in magnet applications.