Pforzheim UniversityCircular economy for rare earths

Permanent magnets based on rare earths are components of many high-tech products, but also of everyday products such as washing machines or heating pumps. However, a large part of these rare earths must be imported to cover the demand in Europe. In addition, their extraction causes enormous environmental damage. 

Pforzheim University is pursuing a new approach here: Prof. Dr. Carlo Burkhardt is working with Steinbeis Europa Zentrum and 16 furher partners from science and industry in the EU project SUSMAGPRO to develop a recycling supply chain for rare earth magnets. Through a short-loop recycling process, the magnet material is embrittled and pulverised with the help of hydrogen in an HPMS process. The powder can be directly reprocessed into magnets, resulting in energy savings of over 90% compared to primary production and as much as 98% lower toxicity.  

By 2024, 110 tonnes of end-of-life magnetics shall be recycled annually in four pilot plants in Sweden, the UK, Slovenia and Germany. This will benefit offshore wind turbines, electric cars and water pumps, among others. Through consistent recycling of components with a high magnetic content, the aim is to achieve a recycling rate of 15-25% in the medium term.  

The SUSMAGPRO partners made an important contribution to the establishment of the European Raw Materials Alliance in October 2020, a crucial step to strengthen European access to critical raw materials and secure the production of rare earth magnets. 

„"The colleagues at Steinbeis Europa Zentrum are strong partners in matters of project application, communication, exploitation and project management. Thanks to them, we can fully focus on research and development tasks. They also make an excellent contribution to the development of strategies for the use of new technologies and pilot plants."“

Professor Dr Carlo Burkhardt, Institute for Precious and Technology Metals, Pforzheim University of Applied Sciences

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