The REE called neodymium (Nd) makes the world’s strongest magnets. These NdFeB magnets are an ideal candidate to explore current and future ‘pain points’ (or bottlenecks) in a transition towards a more resource productive ‘circular’ value chain configuration because they are ubiquitous to all major technology trends, and to the manufacture of electric motors used in EVs and wind turbines.
There are several reverse loops in addition to recycling, ranging from maintaining in use, to remanufacturing and component re-use that could be enhanced within the current linear REE value chain.
Given the current highly linear configuration of REE/magnets value chains we see three major strategies to ensure sufficient access to raw materials, components, and products to achieve UK’s industrial strategic objectives: (1) Securing access to responsibly sourced diversified supply of virgin material from overseas; (2) Establishing recycling processes for REEs and magnets in the UK; and (3) Mapping the whole CE value stream and improving resource productivity and longevity via a combination of CE-interventions.
The first two interventions mentioned above – and their challenges – are reasonably well-known. Companies based in the UK are exploring REE deposits in several countries, especially African countries. There are proposals to build REE refineries in the UK, which do not currently exist anywhere outside of China, including integrated processing of primary raw materials and recycled material.
Funding from Driving the Electric Revolution (UKRI) for the “Rare-Earth Recycling for E-Machines” (“RaRE”) project is helping Hypromag to establish recycling of NdFeB magnets in Birmingham.
The Met4Tech project and the CE-Hub are engaging a wider group of stakeholders to lever joint understanding to address the main ‘pain points’ that inhibit security of supply and circularity in the value chain. The CE-Hub is using the results to develop a more conceptual framework, whilst the Met4Tech team are looking at the specific uses of REEs in the UK (EV mobility, wind power, etc.) to develop the tech metals Roadmap for UK government decision makers.