Rare earth magnets are the strongest type of permanent magnets made on the planet today as they are made from alloys of rare earth metals. They’re aptly named because they’re hard to come by—they are rare! The rare metals have to be mined and purified and that costs a lot of time, money, and energy. However, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have come up with a process that could enable the recycling of two of these metals, neodymium and dysprosium. The best part is this: it can be done at room temperature using standard lab equipment to separate and remix the metals using modern technology in a very efficient and cost-effective way.
As it is now, rare earth metals have a significantly high cost because they’re in demand for their strong amount of magnetism and are able to perform at a wide range of temperatures. Rather than the labor-intensive, ecologically devastating process it takes to mine and purify rare earth metals from the earth, it’s much better to be able to recycle metals, taking them from obsolete objects and re-purposing them into new, needed ones.
In the recent past, “liquid-liquid extraction” was used to dissolve composite material and chemically filter metals apart; the university researchers’ new method, however, is quicker and easier.
Without getting into the science behind the new method, know this: the new method takes five minutes whereas the old method takes weeks. And the smart process to achieve this good-for-the-planet recycling deal will likely be applied to other rare earth products in the future.