REE4EU: exploring novel technologies to reclaim Rare Earth Elements from waste streams
Present in hybrid electric vehicles, windmills, and highly efficient electric motors, Rare Earth Elements (REEs) are considered as "key enablers" of green technologies, but also with the highest supply risk. Because of their geochemical properties, REEs concentration is not found in economically exploitable deposits. Regaining REEs from RE-containing waste streams may constitute a crucial RE secondary source in Europe.
The EU funded project REE4EU developed processes to treat rare earth-containing wastes from permanent magnets to produce an intermediate alloy containing the REEs.
The process relies on two novel technologies:
- The first, called Ionic Liquid Extraction (ILE) process, allows the extraction of the REEs from the waste streams in the form of oxalates.
- The second, named High-Temperature Electrolysis (HTE) process, permits the production of the rare earth-alloy starting from rare earth-oxide mixtures obtained after calcination of the rare earth-oxalate mixtures from the ILE process.
Currently, the technology demonstrates a closed-loop recycling process for permanent magnets at a pilot scale, using RE-containing wastes available in Europe.
- A breakthrough: nobody has been able to demonstrate the whole permanent magnet value chain using RE-containing waste material at this scale before
- Potential to open up a clear investment opportunity to relevant industry stakeholders
- Successful treatments of several tons of in-process wastes and end-of-life products containing rare earth elements
- Recovery of almost hundreds of kilos of rare earth alloys directly from the mixed rare earth oxides feedstock produced
- Identification, through social analysis, of the impact of the REE4EU recycling plant in Europe on workers