Success Story

Acid-free rare-earth magnet recycling

One invention with two dramatic outcomes is the result of a new acid-free rare-earth magnet recycling process invented by scientists at the Critical Materials Institute (CMI) and Ames Laboratory.

During the recycling process, magnets are dissolved in water-based solutions, allowing scientists to recover more than 99 percent purity rare-earth elements.  In addition, cobalt is recovered from cobalt-containing magnet wastes.  The rare-earth materials recovered are used in making new magnets while the recovered cobalt shows promise for use in making battery cathodes.

The technology resulted from analyzing industrially generated wastes from three U.S. magnet manufacturing and processing companies.  A U.S. hard disk drive shredding company supplied shredded HDDs.  In addition, the Ames Laboratory Materials Preparation Center reduced magnets from the research into metal ingots, and collaboration is on-going with a commercial partner, Infinium Metals, to produce metal ingots at larger scale.

Ikenna Nlebidim (left) and Denis Prodius
discuss ​​​​​​recycling electronic waste.

Ames Laboratory and CMI scientists Ikenna Nlebedim and Denis Prodius and Anja-Verena Mudring, formerly of Ames Laboratory and currently of Stockholm University, developed the innovative recycling process.  Nlebedim, lead investigator, says, “The unique strength of this technology is that it eliminates operational hazards and negative environmental impacts associated with acid-based dissolution process without sacrificing purity, efficiency and potential economic impact.” 

Patents for the process have been filed, and the recycling process has earned a prestigious 2018 Notable Technology Development Award from the Federal Laboratory Consortium (FLC).