Rare Earth Extraction from Audio Products


Rare earth magnets based upon neodymium iron boron (NdFeB) are a key material in electric vehicles where they are used in drive motors, generators, power steering and in loudspeakers. In recent years the supply of rare earths has come under considerable constraint from the main producer, China. Recycling of rare earth magnets presents a significant opportunity and REAP aims to develop a recycling supply chain for the loudspeaker market. We will investigate novel ways of liberating rare earth magnets from automotive and consumer audio modules. European Metal Recycling will pre-process automotive and flat screen TV loudspeaker scrap to provide a feed of scrap components containing NdFeB magnets to HyProMag Ltd. HyProMag will evaluate a patented process in conjunction with the University of Birmingham to extract the magnets as a demagnetised alloy powder, which can be used in the remanufacture of magnets. The quality, quantity, availability and value of the scrap will be determined for speakers from various sources and a calculation of value added to the scrap will be made. The short loop recycling processes which are being developed by HyProMag Ltd will have a significant environmental benefit compared to primary production of magnets.

The project will build upon previous work using the HPMS (Hydrogen Processing of Magnet Scrap) route which has been used to liberate and to reprocess magnets from computer hard disk drives. Current lab scale recycling technology at the University of Birmingham has proven that the patented HPMS process has the ability to liberate NdFeB alloy powder from hard disk drive scrap that has been through a simple pre-processing step. For this technology to become commercially viable, multiple scrap sources from varied sectors must be utilised, therefore alternative material feeds must be evaluated. This project is focussed on scrap found in audio applications using feeds that EMR already have access to such as automotive speakers and flat panel TV speakers.

The REAP project was funded by the Catalysing Green Innovation challenge, delivered by Innovate UK for UK Research and Innovation, and ran for 9 months from October 2020.