16 Dec 2022

Developing a supply chain for recycled rare earth permanent magnets in the EU

Challenges and opportunities

Vasileios Rizos / Edoardo Righetti / Amin Kassab

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Rare earth elements are strategically important for the EU to sustain and accelerate its green and digital transition, particularly due to their use in permanent magnets.

Rare earths permanent magnets are critical components of low carbon technologies such as wind turbines and electric vehicles, but also home appliances and consumer electronics. Yet faced with an expected surge in demand, limited domestic manufacturing capacity, high import dependency and rising geopolitical tensions, the EU’s ability to meet the future demand for rare earths magnets is at risk.

Recycling can help secure some of this demand. However, permanent magnets recycling is not yet developed at scale in the EU because of a combination of regulatory, financial, supply chain and technological constraints.

Building upon the lessons learnt during the EU-funded INSPIRES project, as well as interviews with experts in the permanent magnets value chain and own quantitative assessments,  this research report examines the major barriers hindering the establishment of a viable magnets recycling chain in the  EU, whilst estimating the extent to which recycling could compensate the upcoming increase in rare earths magnets demand in the foreseeable future.

Tacking stock of the analysis, the report suggests that introduction of product labelling requirements, the development of recycling quotas, the provision of financial support to recycling operations and the establishment of eco-design requirements. These are the critical actions that need to be implemented to ensure the development of magnets recycling in the EU.

This paper was prepared in the context of the INSPIRES KIC- Raw Material Project that is co-funded by the EU. Proposal Number: 20090.