Magnets are rare earth feed for Geomega
REE magnet recycling company showcasing tech in Quebec Metal Tech News Weekly Edition - August 12, 2020
Last updated 8/26/2020 at 4:14am
It is estimated that upwards of US$13.8 billion of rare earth magnets are imported into the United States each year, which is creating a stockpile of some of the most widely used rare earth elements.
These powerful REE magnets are used in a wide variety of applications – high-performance motors in electric vehicles, wind turbines and generators, medical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and high-fidelity speakers to name a few.
Canada-based Geomega Resources Inc. has developed a process to recover rare earths from magnets and recycle them back into the North American manufacturing sector.
"We are starting with the best feed out there, the magnets," said Geomega Resources President and CEO Kiril Mugerman.
This company focused on developing clean technologies for the mining, refining, and recycling of rare earths, is making headway towards demonstrating the viability of this technology at a pilot plant at Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville, a suburb about 30 minutes outside of Montreal, Quebec.
"We envision that our demonstration plant in St-Bruno can become the center of Quebec's rare earths hub that would bring these critical materials back to North America," Mugerman said in January, when Geomega signed a long-term lease on an industrial site for the recycling plant.
Ideal REE source
Rare earth magnets are not produced in North America, which leaves U.S. and Canadian manufacturers relying on imports, mostly from China, for the magnets they need for high-tech and other devices.
In 2019, roughly US$13.8 billion of rare earth magnets were acquired to manufacture a broad range of U.S. goods that take advantage of the unparalleled strength and durability REE magnets have to offer. This does not include magnets that were already built into smartphones, electric motors, hard drives, speakers, as well as other devices and equipment imported into the U.S. last year.
Many of the raw magnets being imported need to be machined to the size and shape to fit individual applications, which creates magnet chips and scrap.
"Every rare earth magnet factory produces waste; it is just the nature of the business because it is a difficult material to work with," said Mugerman.
The company sees these REE magnets as an ideal source of the four most widely used of the 17 rare earths – neodymium, praseodymium, terbium, and dysprosium.
"It doesn't matter if I'm getting a magnet from China, the US, Canada, or wherever - it's always going to be running at approximately 30% rare earths. And it's not just any rare earths. It always has those four elements: neodymium, praseodymium, terbium, and dysprosium. I don't have to deal with any of the cheap elements, like lanthanum and ceriums," said the Geomega CEO.
Pilot plant demonstration
Using a proprietary REE separation technology known as ISR, Geomega's Quebec pilot plant will have the capacity to process 4.5 metric tons of magnet waste per day. The company said ISR is inexpensive and is more environmentally sound than traditional solvent extraction rare earth recycling techniques.
"It will be a great opportunity to show global magnet manufacturers that there are rare earth recycling innovations that don't harm the environment and produce less greenhouse gases than the methods that were established decades ago when this industry was born," said Mugerman.
Over the seven months since leasing a location to build the pilot plant, Geomega's technical team and engineering partner have made several upgrades to the process, which will be undergoing several demonstration runs at the pilot plant.
These tests, slated to run through August, will also be used to collect emissions data that can be used for permitting a commercial scale facility.
"We are very pleased with the results received and the improved process for rare earths recycling from permanent magnets." said Mugerman. "The pilot test runs will provide demonstration to Geomega of the modifications that were done over the last seven months and will support the corporation in performing the next phase of engineering work, which will then allow us to proceed with vendor selection and equipment ordering."
"Although we have encountered delays both in engineering and in general due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our project is advancing well," he added.
Geomega also sees scrap from the manufacturing of rare earth magnets as a future source of materials for its recycling facility. Though there are currently no such plants in North America, New York-based USA Rare Earth has bought the equipment and plans to establish such a facility in the U.S.
In July, the two companies entered into a letter of intent for Geomega to recycle the scraps from this future facility designed to produce more than 2,000 metric tons of neodymium magnets per year, or roughly 17% of current U.S. demand.
More information on the LOI and USA Rare Earth's plans to establish a neodymium magnet plant can be read at Geomega, USA Rare Earth recycling pact in the July 22 edition of Metal Tech News.
"As North America appears to be establishing domestic permanent magnet production in North America, we believe the timing of our development of our demonstration plant at St-Bruno, Quebec is right and Geomega is looking forward to being part of the global circular economy for rare earths," Mugerman said.
CORRECTION: The U.S. REE import data in this article was updated on Aug. 12.