Barcelona, Spain — Rare earth metals are essential in the production of electronics in Europe, but today 92 percent of the global production of rare earth magnets come from China. For the European Commission, the material necessary for the production of these magnets is classified as a critical raw material. But thanks to the research project „Remanence“, Europe might decrease its dependency and increase its recycling rate.
The European research project „Remanence“ focuses on the recovery of rare earth magnets inside hard disk drives (HDD). In the UK alone, around four to five million HDD are disposed every year with the majority being shredded and only the major materials being recovered. This represents a significant loss of a valuable resource essential for the functioning of modern electronics.
The project developed a new fully automated process using optics and magnetic fields to sort the different models of HDDs, of cutting precisely the edge of the HDD containing the magnet. Through a patented mechanism called hydrogen decrepitation, the magnet is separated from the rest of the material and transformed into a powder ready for reuse to make new magnets.
“Although the composition of magnets changes every year, the reproducibility with the recycled powder of the magnets is exceptional”, says David Gardner, project coordinator at C-Tech.
The project has successfully processed waste HDDs and produced both sintered and bonded magnets at comparable or reduced costs to those made from virgin materials. The European market is one of the biggest consumers of rare earth magnets, and these can provide a valuable source of recycled magnetic material. Furthermore, the price of the raw material is increasing again after a significant drop in 2011-2012. This will help to make this business more profitable, although it has already demonstrated its competitiveness.
Source: Business Wire