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US researchers win award for rare earths recycling innovation

Researchers at the Critical Materials Institute and Ames Laboratory have won a prestigious prize for inventing a magnet recycling process. Their innovation allows magnets to be dissolved in water-based solutions, thus recovering more than 99% purity rare earth metals.

The US Federal Laboratories Consortium has handed this year’s Notable Technology Development Award to researchers at the Critical Materials Institute and Ames Laboratory in celebration of their new 100% acid-free dissolution rare earth magnet recycling process.

Environmentally sound without sacrificing purity

Scientists Ikenna Nlebedim and Denis Prodius

The technique recovers rare earth materials as well as cobalt. The rare earths have been reused in making new magnets, and the recovered cobalt shows promise for use in making battery cathodes.

‘A unique strength of this technology is that operational hazards and negative environmental impacts associated with acid-based dissolution process are eliminated without sacrificing purity, efficiency and potential economic impact,’ explains Ikenna Nlebedim, the lead investigator for the research. He points out that patents for the process have been filed.

Lessening reliance on imports

 ‘Rare earths are used in industry, defense, and electronics. If they can be obtained through recycling rather than imported from a foreign country, this innovation is worthy of recognition,’ the judges underline.

‘We’re extremely proud of this success, because it demonstrates the effectiveness of the Critical Materials Institute to deliver innovations that lessen our domestic reliance on imported specialty materials,’ acknowledges CMI Director Chris Haase.

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