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Procedure for concentrating rare-earth elements in NdFeB magnets for efficient recycling

Iowa State University and Ames Laboratory Critical Materials Institute researchers have developed a process combining simple and environmentally-friendly chemical reactions with mechanical steps to enrich rare earth elements from neodymium iron boride magnet scrap for improved recycling.
Neodymium iron boride magnets are used in a variety of applications which require high energy density, most notably in clean energy solutions (generators and traction motors). A variety of methods are available for recycling spent magnets, including pyrometallurgy and liquid extraction using organophospates. While effective, these methods can have high energy costs and utilize extremely hazardous chemicals, making NdFeB recycling less attractive. This new process developed combines reducing the magnet into powder, oxidizing the powder, mechanical milling, and reducing and removing the iron. The process can be implemented with minimal capital investment, making it applicable for smaller recyclers, and eliminates using acids and other hazardous chemicals to concentrate the rare earth elements. The process may also be used directly on swarf from magnet machining, making recovery from this waste stream more cost effective.
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