Working since 2017 with Tokyo’s Waseda University, Nissan says it has developed and a new recycling process that represents a more efficient and cost-effective way of recovering rare-earth metals from electric motors.
The process itself involves heating a used motor to 1,400 degrees Celsius (approximately 2,552 degrees Fahrenheit) so that it melts down. The company then adds an iron oxide to the mixture to oxidize the rare-earth metals, followed by a borate-based flux. The latter substance causes the molten mixture to separate into two liquid layers, with the rare-earth metals floating to the top of the mixture where they can be easily removed.
In testing, Nissan claims it’s been able to recover 98 percent of a motor’s rare-earth elements using the new recycling process. The entire procedure also takes about half as much time as manually disassembling a motor, which is what Nissan currently does to recycle rare-earth metals. The company hopes to implement the process by the mid-2020s.
If we’re to have any chance to , finding new and novel ways to recycle and reuse rare-earth metals will be vital. The 17 minerals that make up the rare-earth group are critical to making electric vehicles, solar panels and wind turbines. A 2018 study by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure found a shortage of rare-earth metals is likely to limit the world’s ability to meet the emission reduction targets set out by the .