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US team makes headway in rare earth recovery

United States – US researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts have discovered a new method for recovering rare earths from electric and hybrid vehicles. The ‘highly efficient’ process specifically targets neodymium, dysprosium and praseodymium, yielding a metal recovery rate of over 80%.

The pilot project saw research partners Assistant Professor Marion Emmert and postdoctoral fellow H. M. Dhammika Bandara slice the drive of an all-electric Chevrolet Spark into several pieces which were subsequently shredded. Using a two-step chemical extraction process, Emmert and Bandara were able to separate the rare earth elements and also recover other recyclable materials, such as steel chips. The ‘green chemistry’ approach relies on selective precipitation of rare earth salts as a ‘key step’ in obtaining pure rare earth products.

‘In the last 20 years, the US has lost knowledge and expertise in how to mine, recover and separate these materials,’ says Emmert. She hopes that the new method will help make the USA ‘less dependent’ on foreign countries – most notably China – for the recovery of rare earth elements.

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