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Ionic Rare Earths begins full-scale production of high-purity recycled magnet rare earth oxides at UK facility

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Ionic Rare Earths has initiated continuous production of high-purity, recycled magnet rare earth oxides (REOs) at its demonstration plant located at Ionic Technologies International Ltd’s Belfast facility in the UK.

The company specializes in recycling Neodymium-Iron-Boron (NdFeB) permanent magnets into high-purity separated magnet rare earth oxides (REOs), thereby establishing sustainable, traceable, and sovereign rare earth supply chains.

With its recent milestone, Ionic Technologies becomes a pioneer in producing a range of magnet REOs including neodymium oxide (Nd2O3), didymium oxide (NdPr oxide), dysprosium oxide (Dy2O3), and terbium oxide (Tb4O7) of exceptional quality within the UK.

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The Belfast facility anticipates a consistent influx of magnets for recycling from various sources such as swarf generated by existing manufacturers of metal alloys and magnets, decommissioned wind turbines from grid-scale wind farms, as well as magnets and components from retired electric vehicles (EVs) and other industries.

Ionic Technologies commenced operations by processing an end-of-life (EOL) permanent magnet retrieved from a decommissioned wind turbine generator. This magnet contained 26.7% neodymium (Nd), 5.4% praseodymium (Pr), 1.0% dysprosium (Dy), and 1.4% holmium (Ho).

Upon completing the process commissioning, Ionic Technologies successfully isolated NdPr from heavy rare earth elements (REE) DyHo, which will undergo further separation to yield high-purity Dy2O3 and Ho2O3 products.

The initial production from the continuous Demonstration Plant activity has yielded approximately 11.5 kg of NdPr oxide, boasting a purity exceeding 99.8% NdPr oxide (total REO content of 99.99%). This achievement follows previous successful productions of maiden Nd2O3 grading 99.7% and Dy2O3 grading 99.8%, as well as Tb4O7 grading over 99.5%.

The production of NdPr oxide, along with subsequent Dy2O3 and Tb4O7, supports Ionic Technologies’ collaboration with partners Less Common Metals (LCM) and Ford Technologies.

Ionic Technologies will supply REOs to LCM, which will utilize them in producing alloys for magnet manufacturing in Europe. These sintered magnets will then be supplied to Ford Technologies in Halewood, UK, for the production of electric motors for evaluation. This collaboration demonstrates a UK-based magnet rare earth supply chain as part of the UK Government-sponsored CLIMATES initiative.

With the successful commissioning and initial continuous production from the demonstration plant, Ionic Technologies is now advancing towards late-stage negotiations for strategically significant production campaigns. These negotiations aim to progress towards commercial agreements to expand the technology’s adoption among western end-users.

The continuous demonstration plant will also facilitate the completion of a Feasibility Study for a commercial-scale facility, expected by mid-2024.

Ionic Technologies, founded in 2015 as a spinout from Queens University Belfast (QUB), is a wholly-owned subsidiary of IonicRE. Ionic Technologies has developed rare earth element separation and refining technology, applying it to the recycling of spent permanent Neodymium-Iron-Boron (NdFeB) magnets.

In recognition of its efforts, IonicTech received a grant of £1.72 million (approximately A$2.9 million) from the UK Government’s Innovate UK Automotive Transformation Fund Scale-up Readiness Validation (SuRV) program in September 2022. This grant aims to secure the UK’s supply of critical rare earth metals for EV manufacture.

Moreover, in September 2023, Ionic Technologies secured additional funding through two Innovate UK CLIMATES grants totaling £2 million (A$3.90 million). These grants focus on developing a traceable, circular supply chain of rare earths for EV motor applications within the UK, and conducting a feasibility study for a commercial magnet recycling plant in Belfast, UK.

The magnet recycling Demonstration Plant will provide essential data for the development of commercial facilities.

Ionic Technologies’ magnet recycling process is adaptable to various magnet qualities, capable of processing oxidized magnets, and proficient in managing coatings and films to produce individually separated and refined high-purity REOs.”

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