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Rhodia expands rare earth recycling reach

France – Chemicals specialist Rhodia has begun a recycling project involving the rare earths contained in magnets used largely in windmills, electric vehicles and hard disks. After low-energy light bulbs and nickel metal hydride (NiMH) rechargeable batteries, this is the third project in the group’s strategy to secure and diversify its rare earth sourcing.

Rhodia will recover the rare earth concentrate from its partners specialising in the magnets’ recycling. This high-grade concentrate will be refined and formulated into rare earth materials at Rhodia’s plant in La Rochelle, France. Rhodia will reformulate the neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium and terbium – the four rare earths contained in the magnets.

Earlier this year, the French subsidiary of Solvay Chemicals announced its plans to recycle rare earth from used low-energy light bulbs. Two dedicated units in La Rochelle and Saint-Fons, also in France, are now under construction and are scheduled to be operational in the first quarter of 2012. Rhodia has also partnered with Umicore to recycle rare earths from NiMH rechargeable batteries through a venture that is set to become operational by the end of this year.

‘Recycling opens up new perspectives for access to rare earths while preserving the natural resource,’ explains Frédéric Carencotte, Industrial Director of Rhodia Rare Earth Systems and the man responsible for the recycling projects. ‘This also allows us to revalue our unique know-how in terms of purification by liquid-liquid extraction of all the rare earths.’

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