Rare Earths to be Recycled from Magnets in France

French chemicals group Rhodia has launched a project to recycle the Rare Earths Elements contained in high performance magnets largely used in windmills, electric vehicles and hard disks.

06 October 2011

French chemicals group Rhodia has launched a project to recycle the Rare Earths Elements contained in high performance magnets largely used in windmills, electric vehicles and hard disks.

Rhodia says that it develops a large number of innovations used in everyday applications such as flat screens, low-energy light bulbs, exhaust emissions control, high precision optics and other uses.

According to the company, the project follows earlier initiatives to recycle REEs from low-energy light bulbs and nickel metal hydride (NiMH) rechargeable batteries, and is a further step in the Group's strategy to secure and diversify its rare earth sourcing.

Rhodia says that it will recover the rare earth concentrate from its partners specialising in recycling magnets.

This high-grade concentrate will be refined and formulated into rare earth materials at the company's plant in La Rochelle, France. The four REEs contained in magnets, neodymium, the praseodymium, the dysprosium and the terbium, will be reformulated.

Early this year the company announced its scheme to recycle REEs from used low-energy light bulbs. The two dedicated facilities in La Rochelle and Saint-Fons, France are currently under construction and will be operational in the first quarter of 2012.

Furthermore, the company says that it has also partnered with Umicore to recycle REEs from NiMH rechargeable batteries found in portable applications, hybrid electric vehicles, and other applications. This project is expected to be 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 responsible for the recycling projects.

Strategic materials

The European Union is currently considering whether to stockpile raw materials that are deemed to be strategic, such as rare earths.

The debate follows the decision by China - which controls up to 97% of the global REE market - to slash export quotas, which has sent prices soaring and turned rare earths, vital to many renewable energy and hi-tech industries, into a political issue.

According to a recent report by Reuters, Rhodia does not see stockpiling of rare earths by Europe as a pertinent response to Chinese export curbs, and favours efforts to diversify supply through mining and recycling projects.

"Creating strategic stocks of rare earths seems a little strange to me," explains Jean-Pierre Clamadieu, previously chief executive of Rhodia and now deputy CEO of Solvay following the Belgian group's takeover of the French company.

"The West overreacted in making the question of rare earths a cause for a standoff between China and Europe," he adds.

Rhodia says it is also stepping up plans to recycle rare earths, with Clamadieu saying this could accounts for "several tens of percent" of the group's rare earth supply in the future.

Also Read

Recycling: Rarely so Critical
As renewable energy finally takes off, China has tightened supply of rare earth elements - vital to much renewables technology. Ben Messenger looks at the complex process of recycling rare earths which has moved into the spotlight.

Rare Earth Element Recycling Joint Venture Launched
Electronic recycling specialist, Creative Recycling Systems, Inc. has entered into a joint venture to form GreenRock Rare Earth Recovery Corporation

Recycling Association Gives Evidence at Inquiry into Strategic Rare Earth Metals
A House of Commons Science and Technology Committee inquiry into strategic rare earth metals has heard evidence from the British Metals Recycling Association


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