HyProMag recycles rare earth material from wind turbines and computer hard disks and is making progress in the process
Rare earth magnets are used in many wind turbines, especially those at sea. They help to convert the rotational energy of the rotors into electricity. At some point, even high-quality wind turbines will reach the end of their service life, at which point they could become a source for the recovery of neodymium and other materials, at least if HyProMag has its way. The same applies to drive motors for mechanical hard disks.
The Birmingham-based company, which belongs to the Canadian mining group Mkango Resources, has set up a pilot plant for this purpose together with the university of the English city and reported progress on Tuesday. For the first time, rare earth magnets have been produced from recycled materials at the Tyseley Energy Park; the last time this was done in the UK was over 20 years ago. Commercial production is expected to start as early as the middle of next year, and more than 3,000 workpieces have already been produced in the current test run. This has also laid the foundation for similar plants in Germany and the USA.
HyProMag uses the patented HPMS technology, a hydrogen-based recycling process developed at the University of Birmingham. With a very small ecological footprint, the company states, the rare earth elements neodymium and praseodymium can be recovered in powder form from various products and then processed into new magnetic materials or rare earth alloys.
The data on rare earth requirements per wind turbine varies, partly due to the different designs. The Australian mining company Lynas assumes that almost two tons of magnetic material are used in a direct drive system. In view of Europe’s heavy dependence on imports of rare earths from China, recycling could put the supply of raw materials on a broader footing. This is also the aim of the European Critical Raw Materials Act, which sets the target quota for the recovery of strategic raw materials at 25 percent.