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Rare earth metals extracted from rechargeable batteries

Belgium / France – Umicore of Belgium and Rhodia of France have jointly developed a process for the recycling of rare earth elements from nickel metal hydride (NiMH) rechargeable batteries.

This combines the former’s proprietary Ultra High Temperature (UHT) battery recycling process with the latter’s rare earth refining competences. The process can service the entire range of NiMH batteries – from portable applications to batteries used in hybrid electric vehicles. Recovery of rare earth materials could begin by the end of this year, it is hoped.

The process will be applied to NiMH cells treated at Umicore’s new battery recycling plant in Hoboken. Following the separation of nickel and iron from the rare earths, the company will process the rare earths into a high-grade concentrate that will be refined and formulated into rare earth materials at Rhodia’s plant at La Rochelle.

Sybolt Brouwer, Umicore’s General Manager of Battery Recycling and Recycling Development, comments: ‘This is the first industrial process that closes the loop of the rare earths contained in NiMH batteries. It demonstrates the uniqueness and flexibility of Umicore’s UHT recycling technology.’ Frédéric Carencotte, Industrial Director of Rhodia Rare Earth Systems, adds: ‘After the recycling of rare earths contained in low-energy lamps, this agreement represents a new step in our strategy to recycle rare earths from end-of-life equipment.’

The main use of NiMH batteries is in rechargeable AA and AAA batteries (typically used in domestic applications such as cordless phones, toys and games), power tools and hybrid electric vehicles. Some 7% of a typical NiMH battery is made up of rare earth elements such as cerium, lanthanum, neodymium and praseodymium; this equates to around 1 gramme of rare earth metals per AAA battery, 60 grammes for a household power tool and 2 kg for a hybrid electric vehicle battery.

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