Advanced Methods to Recycle Rare-Earth Elements in the US

Recycled BagsResearch is being carried out at the Ames Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in Ames, Iowa, to separate neodymium from other elements of the magnet. Scientists at the Laboratory have discovered that materials that are recycled retain the properties of useful magnets having rare-earth elements such as neodymium.

The recycling process

The team began their research with uncoated, sintered magnet containing dysprosium, neodymium and praseodymium.

The magnets are then broken down into pieces using an automated pestle and mortar. Each magnet piece is about 4 millimeters long and is placed inside a box mesh screen, which is contained in a crucible of stainless-steel.

Solid chunks of magnesium are then added to the magnet pieces. The material is heated by a radio frequency furnace. Magnesium chunks melt but the magnet pieces continue to remain solid. At this juncture, the rare earth elements diffuse out from the magnetic material and penetrate into the molten magnesium.

In this way, boron and iron of the original magnet are retained. Rare earth elements combined with the molten magnesium are made into an ingot. The magnesium is then boiled off, leaving behind the rare earth elements.

Recycling and creating eco friendly promotional items

The research of recycling rare earth elements is built on Ames laboratory’s extensive experience in processing rare earth elements.  Scientists of the Ames laboratory had developed a method to extract rare earth elements from boron -iron- neodymium magnet material two decades ago.

The goal then was to create a mixture of neodymium and magnesium; neodymium was necessary to add strength to the alloy. By doing so, it eliminated the need to extract pure rare earth elements whose prices were low during that time. In the last decade however, there has been a dearth of supplies and the prices of rare earth elements have increased radically.

So, the present day goal is to create magnet alloys from rare elements that are recycled. These new alloys are designed to be similar to the alloys created out of rare earth elements which are not processed.

The leading scientist of the research team at Ames Laboratory, Ryan Ott feels that the new processing technique is working well to remove rare earth elements effectively from magnets.

Ames Laboratory has been providing solutions to tackle the global environmental problems. A sensible way of dealing with the depleting resources is to recycle them.

The approach can be extended to plastics, paper and electronic waste. An individual can also do his part by using eco friendly promotional items made out of recycled material.

Source: http://phys.org/news/2012-10-ames-laboratory-recycle-rare-earth-materials.html

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