From Science Daily:

In an effort to help develop a sustainable domestic supply of rare earth elements and lessen the United States’ dependence on China for materials that are vital to the production of electronics, wind turbines, and many other technologies, two researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) have developed a method of extracting rare earths from the drive units and motors of discarded electric and hybrid cars.

With support from WPI’s Center for Resource Recovery and Recycling (CR3), Marion Emmert, assistant professor of chemistry, chemical engineering, and mechanical engineering at WPI, and postdoctoral fellow H.M. Dhammika Bandara conduct research at WPI’s Gateway Park in a specially equipped laboratory, one of the only such facilities of its kind in the nation.

Working there, the pair has created the novel method for processing drive units and electric motors to chemically separate rare earth elements — specifically neodymium, dysprosium, and praseodymium — from other materials used to make the devices. The goal is to recycle rare earths that would otherwise be lost in a sustainable and efficient manner.

To test the process, the WPI researchers sliced the drive unit (which contains the electric motor and other components of the drive train) of an all-electric Chevrolet Spark vehicle into several pieces and then shredded the pieces. Using a two-step chemical extraction process, they were able to separate the rare earth elements and also recover other recyclable materials, including steel chips and other useful materials from the drive units.

The researchers say the technology has the potential…

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