Materials

Rare earth magnets from old computers to find use in electric Bentleys

Rare earth magnets from old co...
A sample of a rare earth magnet from HyProMag, the company spun out of the University of Birmingham that will produce them from old computer hard drives for Bentley Motors
A sample of a rare earth magnet from HyProMag, the company spun out of the University of Birmingham that will produce them from old computer hard drives for Bentley Motors
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A sample of a rare earth magnet from HyProMag, the company spun out of the University of Birmingham that will produce them from old computer hard drives for Bentley Motors
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A sample of a rare earth magnet from HyProMag, the company spun out of the University of Birmingham that will produce them from old computer hard drives for Bentley Motors

Rare earth magnets form an important part of many of today's electronic devices, ranging from wind turbine generators to MRI scanners. Despite their prevalence, only a tiny fraction of these magnets are recycled once they reach the end of their lives, but a new project involving Bentley Motors is intended to steer this trend back in the right direction, by repurposing them for use in luxury vehicles.

The new UK-funded venture goes by the name of the RaRE (Rare-earth Recycling for E-machines) and involves a number of industry partners in addition to Bentley, with a technology patented by researchers at the University of Birmingham and now licensed to spin-off company HyProMag serving as the bedrock. This is called Hydrogen Processing of Magnet Scrap (HPMS), and involves breaking down rare earth metals in discarded electronic devices as a way of separating them from the other bits and pieces.

As part of a new three-year agreement, the researchers will now adapt this technology to recycle rare earth magnets from old computer hard drives, which will be used in ancillary motors for Bentley's electric and hybrid vehicles. The luxury automaker has taken tentative steps toward electrification in recent years, introducing a Bentayga Hybrid in 2018 following a string of electric sports car concepts.

A key focus of the project will be coming up with a way of scaling up this HPMS recycling process to produce more substantial amounts of neodymium magnets (NdFeB), the most common form of rare earth metal.

“RaRE is an exciting project and a fantastic opportunity,' says Nick Mann, Operations General Manager at HyProMag. "HyProMag’s recycling technologies allow us to produce NdFeB magnets with a much lower embedded carbon cost than using virgin supply and with independence from Chinese supply and we are working closely with our major shareholder Mkango Resources to further grow the business."

Source: University of Birmingham

4 comments
Peter Forte
Recycling will become an essential part of industrial and manufacturing processes in our quest for a sustainable lifestyle. One is left to wonder at the fate of the other components of the hard drives which are harvested for their rare earth magnets. Can anyone sense the tremendous business opportunity?
michael_dowling
It is a sin to toss out useful components like rare earth magnets. My electric toothbrush has rare earth magnets in the base of the screw on brush head. I break the old magnets off when I discard the brush part. No wonder my replacement brushes cost an arm and a leg. I use the salvaged magnets for super powerful fridge magnets.
Trylon
I always take the cover off dead hard drives and remove the magnets before taking them to electronics recycling centers. They've very useful around the house.
Fee Gunn
I've been dismantling hard drives for my art for years now and have a few hundred magnets from them and usually give them to friends. This is a great initiative but may be a little too late, hard drive manufacturing is on the decline, solid state drives are already cheap enough to take over their mechanical big brothers on a smaller scale. The drive for smaller devices, and cloud storage everywhere is killing off the need for big data storage. Also the magnets are considerably smaller over the last 5-10 years.
Optimistic on the project still