Rare Earth Elements (REEs) are the seventeen chemical elements lanthanides, Scandium and Yttrium. REEs are considered “key-enablers” of green technologies, as they are used in hybrid electric vehicles, wind mills, and highly efficient electric motors.
Because of their geochemical properties, REEs are typically dispersed and not often found concentrated as Rare Earth (RE) minerals in economically exploitable deposits. A recent study, based on detailed trade data, estimates the global trade in RE-containing products in 2010 at around €1.5 trillion, or 13% of the global trade. However, only 1% of RE waste is being recovered as no adequate process is currently available.
The Rare Earth Recycling for Europe (REE4EU) project, that took place between 2015 and 2018, aimed to open-up a fully new route bringing recovery of in-process wastes from Permanent Magnet manufacturing within reach.
It did so by demonstrating, at a pilot scale, a closed-loop permanent magnet recycling process for the first time in Europe. The REE4EU pilot has successfully treated several tons of in-process wastes and end-of-life products containing rare earth elements, resulting in the recovery of almost hundred kilos of rare earth alloys directly from the mixed rare earth oxides feedstock produced. The alloy will be reused in the manufacturing of permanent magnet products.