Rare Earth Metals in Strong Demand

EU projects aims to optimize hard magnetic materials

It would be impossible to meet European demand for rare earth metals (REMs) without turning to external sources. The greater the gap between supply and demand, the more important it will be to use existing resources sustainably. To use REMs efficiently, it will therefore be necessary to develop production processes that meet this requirement. As part of an EU-backed project called REProMag, European partner companies from five countries are currently working on the development of new production processes for the manufacturing of high-precision permanent magnetics for use in sensors, engines, and generators. Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum (SEZ) is just one of the 14 project partners involved.

The aim of the project is to develop a manufacturing route for rare earth magnets that is both innovative and resource-efficient. The process will be based on the use of recycled materials to significantly reduce dependency on magnet production using scarce and valuable raw materials. The new process promises to deliver innovative automated production methods for complex 3D and multilayer components. This should result in significant material efficiency enhancements of at least 30% in production. It will also improve part dimensions and help avoid wastage.

Rare earth magnets produced with this process can be used in a variety of areas, from electric motors to sensors, actuators, grippers and fixing devices used in (electric) vehicles, power applications, aviation, manufacturing, mechanical engineering, and medical technology. This new production method falls under SDS processes, where SDS stands for shaping, de-binding, and sintering.

The project team has already started enjoying its first successes. For example, the first metal compacts have been successfully produced and the team has made isotropic Nd-Fe-B magnets with strong coercivity from recycled materials. The project reached its halfway point in July and the project partners from Germany, France, the UK, Austria, and Slovenia will shortly be meeting for a midterm review. There will then be a series of presentations at a workshop in Darmstadt on rare earth and future permanent magnets and their applications with a further workshop planned at the World PM2016 convention in Hamburg. The results will also be presented at the 32nd International Conference of the Polymer Processing Society in Lyon (France).

The project is being coordinated by OBE Ohnmacht & Baumgärtner GmbH & Co from Ispringen with €5.7 million of backing from the European Commission over three years. Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum (SEZ) is providing support with research and is acting as a partner on project and knowledge management. In 2015, SEZ also helped the consortium with concept planning and running the first partner meetings and workshops. The Steinbeis experts are also responsible for disseminating and exploting project results. Ohnmacht & Baumgärtner already received support from SEZ during the project bidding process and drafting contracts with the EU.

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