Japanese car manufacturer Nissan Motor has started testing a more efficient and less costly process of recovering high-purity, rare-earth metals used in magnet motors for electric vehicles (EVs), with practical application targeted for mid 2020s.
Working in collaboration with Tokyo-based Waseda University – noted for its research in non-ferrous recycling and smelting – the process involves a new recycling technology that recovers rare earth compounds without dismantling the motor, halving the cost of the process, and mitigating environmental damage in the supply chain.
Most EVs use scarce rare-earth metals – neodymium and dysprosium – in their magnet motors. The new metallurgy process involves melting a recycled rotor in a furnace of 1,400°C, adding iron oxide and a borate-based flux, respectively oxidizing the rare-earth metals, and allowing the resulting mixtures to be easily separated.
Testing has shown that the process can recover up to 98% of a motor’s rare-earth elements and halves the processing time and recycling cost, according to Senior Manager at Nissan, Kazuhiro Ogawa.
“Reducing the use of rare earths is a key challenge as the resources are unevenly distributed, prices fluctuate depending on supply-demand balance, and the mining and smelting process has an impact on ecosystems,” Ogawa said.
Waseda University and Nissan will continue testing at large-scale facilities with the aim of developing practical application for the process by the middle of the decade.
The move comes in the wake of Nissan’s Green Program 2022, which addresses climate change, resource dependency, air quality and water security as the company continues its aim for carbon neutrality.
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