Rare earth elements, prized for their magnetic properties, are used in a wide range of modern technology, including advanced electric motors. Unfortunately, they are expensive, and some are available only from problematic parts of the world.
To make it easier to recover and recycle rare earth minerals, the DOE’s Critical Materials Institute (CMI) has developed a new membrane solvent extraction system, which has now been commercially licensed to a Texas firm called US Rare Earths.
The technology uses a combination of hollow fiber membranes, organic solvents and neutral extractants to recover elements such as neodymium, dysprosium and praseodymium. In lab tests, the membrane extraction system demonstrated the potential to recover more than 90% of these elements from scrap neodymium-based magnets.
“Our single-step process to recover rare-earth elements from scrap magnets is more environmentally friendly and has the potential to be a more cost-effective approach compared to conventional routes such as precipitation,” said ORNL’s Ramesh Bhave, who led the membrane solvent extraction research and development.
US Rare Earths intends to apply the technology to recover rare earth elements from old electronics and from its US mining claims.
“The recycling of electronic waste will provide a competitive source of neodymium, dysprosium and praseodymium for growing the clean tech sector, including electric vehicles,” said CEO Kevin Cassidy.