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TdVib commercializing CMI technology for recycling rare earth elements from electronic waste

The date of: 2022-03-01
viewed: 10
source:Green Car Congress

A team of researchers from the Critical Materials Institute (CMI), a US Department of Energy Innovation Hub led by the Ames Laboratory, developed a novel way to extract rare earth elements from the high-powered magnets in electronic waste (earlier post). Recently, TdVib LLC, a company based out of Boone, Iowa, signed a license agreement for the technology with Iowa State University Research Foundation, which handles patenting and technology transfer activities for Ames Laboratory.
TdVib designs and manufactures technology-driven, high-value systems based on electromagnetics, including magnetostrictive smart materials Terfenol-D and Galfenol.
Rare earths are essential ingredients in the magnets that power many technologies people rely on today, such as cell phones, computers, electric vehicles, and wind turbines. Since 1990 supplies of these elements have become limited and recycling them is one way to address their limited availability.
Ikenna Nlebedim, the lead researcher on the recycling project, explained that big companies shred items such as computer hard drives to protect the information on them. Once the drives are shredded, recycling becomes more complex because other recycling methods depend on separating the magnets from other materials. The CMI recycling process is designed to extract the rare earths directly from shredded e-waste.
This recycling technology has an advantage over other processes because the solution used to dissolve magnets is water-based rather than acid-based. Nlebedim explained that the process begins without acids and the byproducts are treated to eliminate acid-contaminated wastes, which makes it friendlier for the environment.
Other recycling processes involve heating the e-waste to temperatures above 600 degrees Fahrenheit to demagnetize the magnets. The CMI process does not require pre-heating, which leads to reduction in pollution and energy usage.
Since the solution used in this process is copper-based, the processed e-waste ends up infused with copper. This copper can be recovered, or it can be reused in other operations. Copper is the key to making the process economically viable and environmentally friendly.
Another important aspect of the technology is its scalability. Upscaling processes from the lab to larger operations often leads to unexpected problems. However, according to Dan Bina, president and CEO of TdVib, upscaling has improved this process.
Nlebedim and Prodius have been working on the technology for a few years. Licensing to TdVib LLC is the newest step in its progress from lab to commercialization. The company was initially awarded a Phase I and then Phase II Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) funding. STTR is a program that encourages small businesses to pursue federal research and development with potential for commercialization.
The goal of Phase II, which is in progress, is to produce three to five tons of rare earth oxide in the next one to two years.

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