Client Journey Prof. Dr. Carlo BurkhardtMaking rare earth magnet supply chains more sustainable and secure
An EU success story from Baden-Württemberg
12 million euros in EU funding for the large-scale REEsilience project and the founding of the start-up HyProMag - these are two recent successes for Prof. Dr. Carlo Burkhardt, who heads the Institute for Precious and Technology Metals (STI) at Pforzheim University of Applied Sciences. REEsilience is dedicated to building a resilient supply chain for rare earth-based magnetic materials and will start in summer 2022 with a duration of four years. 18 European partners share a funding amount of 12 million euros. The lion's share of around 2.5 million euros will go to Pforzheim University, with a further 550,000 euros going to the newly founded university startup HyProMag GmbH.
How the journey began
The journey began for the professor from Pforzheim many years earlier with a mentoring program of Steinbeis Europa Zentrum in 2010. The trainings and workshops on EU application and project management combined with his great passion for research on the recycling of rare earth magnets led to the submission of the project proposal REProMag in 2014 with the support and involvement of Steinbeis Europa Zentrum.
In 2014, the REProMag research project was awarded over 5.7 million euros in the EU research and innovation programme Horizon 2020. The focus was on establishing sustainable recycling processes and the efficient production of permanent magnets from recovered rare earths.
In 2019, Carlo Burkhardt and Steinbeis Europa Zentrum were again able to convince the reviewers of the European Commission and won further crucial co-funding from Horizon 2020 for the next stage. The SUSMAGPRO project makes it possible to bring the mature technologies and processes to industrial scale with further European partners.
In parallel to SUSMAGPRO, a third proposal submission in the new EU research and innovation programme Horizon Europe was successful. The REEsilience project will focus on the supply chain itself. Recycling alone will not be able to meet the large and increasing demand for rare earth magnets in Europe and still needs some time to overcome the final technological, but above all economic and political hurdles, especially as long as primary raw materials and their processing are cheaper than secondary ones. Therefore, the REEsilience partners, led by Prof. Burkhardt, will look at all existing and emerging recycling and production sources and develop a software tool to track all process steps and combine a customized mix of sources from them while considering ethical and ecological aspects.
The REProMag project received multiple awards. As a contributing partner in the project, the coordinating company OBE Ohnmacht & Baumgärtner from Ispringen was included in the list of 100 Companies for Resource Efficiency in 2016. In 2017, REProMag received the German Raw Material Efficiency Award from the Federal Ministry of Economy, won 1st place in the material efficiency category at the Baden-Württemberg Environmental Technology Award, and in March 2018 it was declared a Success Story by the European Commission.
The SUSMAGPRO partners, on the other hand, significantly contributed to the establishment of the European Raw Materials Alliance (ERMA) in October 2020, a crucial step to strengthen European access to critical raw materials and secure the production of rare earth magnets.
Together with some of the project partners, Carlo Burkhardt co-authored the ERMA Action Plan on these critical issues in 2021: Rare Earth Magnets and Motors: A European Call for Action - A report by the Rare Earth Magnets and Motors Cluster of the European Raw Materials Alliance.
Market development in Baden-Württemberg and Europe
Another highlight is the foundation of HyProMag GmbH by Carlo Burkhardt in 2021, which is also involved in REEsilience. The start-up is dedicated to establishing a production facility for recycled rare earths in Europe as a secondary, high-quality material for the production of magnets for high-tech applications for motors, generators and sensors from all relevant industries.
Shaping the framework conditions for innovation
With regard to the stabilisation of European supply chains, it became clear that the EU framework conditions for the new innovative processes must be adapted in order to establish the circular economy in this area in Europe and to ensure a more secure supply for Europe. Steinbeis Europa Zentrum therefore organised talks with Members of the European Parliament and representatives of the European Commission with the support of the Commissioner for Europe of the Minister of Economic Affairs, Labour and Tourism Baden-Württemberg. They discussed hurdles and needs together and gave impulses for necessary measures.
Steinbeis Europa Zentrum supports project implementation
Like in REProMag and SUSMAGPRO, Steinbeis Europa Zentrum will once again strengthen Carlo Burkhardt and his team in REEsilience as a trusted partner in the consortium. It leads the clarification of intellectual property rights and helps the partners to develop their strategies and models for the successful use of the project results beyond the end of the project. It is also responsible for communication and networking activities and dissemination of project results. Furthermore, it assists with financial and administrative project management.
Carlo Burkhardt has since successfully connected his research groups to other national and European funding programmes, such as the EIT RawMaterials. Other opportunities are already being evaluated to promote the breakthrough of a safer, more sustainable circular economy of rare earth magnets and related innovative technologies in Europe.
 The REProMag project was funded under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 821114.
 The SUSMAGPRO project is funded under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 636881.
 Roland Gauß, Carlo Burkhardt, Frédéric Carencotte, Massimo Gasparon, Oliver Gutfleisch, Ian Higgins, Milana Karajić, Andreas Klossek, Maija Mäkinen, Bernd Schäfer, Reinhold Schindler, Badrinath Veluri. Rare Earth Magnets and Motors: A European Call for Action. A report by the Rare Earth Magnets and Motors Cluster of the European Raw Materials Alliance. Berlin 2021.
„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