The future of renewable energy and smart mobility depends upon permanent magnets (PMs), and those magnets depend upon Rare Earth Elements (REEs). From wind turbines and hydroelectric generators to electromotors in next-generation hybrid and electric vehicles, magnets are critical to Europe’s future. The essential Critical Raw Materials (CRM) used in NdFeB PMs are REEs, plus the non-REEs niobium and gallium. Except for niobium, overall recycling rates of these elements are close to zero; in Europe, there are no commercial installations for recycling of NdFeB PMs. Although CRMs from China have been the primary source for Europe, supplies are uncertain, and the Chinese production chain is generally unsustainable. At the same time, the demand for REEs for making new PMs is projected to double in 15 years. The INSPIRES (INtelligent and Sustainable Processing of Innovative Rare-Earth MagnetS) project seeks to address this challenge within a RIS Region (Slovenia) through radical innovations in the recycling of permanent magnets, focusing on the most common and readily available source of economically recyclable electric motors: home appliances such as washing machines, tumble driers, and similar devices. Unlike other sources of end of life (EOL) PMs, there are already well-functioning systems for the collection and dismantling of home appliances, but no procedures to enable recovery of magnets. We will develop new dismantling and recovery procedures for PMs on highly functional scrap and reproduction lines, pilot test new circular economy pathways with key industrial partners in their existing workflow contexts, analyze their sustainability performance from economic, environmental life cycle, and quality of life perspectives, and make recommendations for novel standardized marking of magnets and packing boxes. The project will aggregate results and innovations across the stakeholder space, including EU projects and clustering initiatives, and offer open and flexible new methods for easy adoption across Europe.
CEPS role is to develop policy recommendations for recycling-based circular economy approaches for CRMs.