Birmingham to become UK’s first centre for rare earth magnet recycling

Rare earth recycling company HyProMag, which was formed by researchers from the University of Birmingham’s School of Metallurgy and Materials, is to be acquired by Maginito.
A sample rare earth magnet from HyProMag. Photo: University of Birmingham

HyProMag’s core technology is the based upon the patented process – Hydrogen Processing of Magnet Scrap (HPMS), which was originally developed within the University’s Magnetic Materials Group (MMG) to extract rare earth magnets from scrap and redundant equipment and subsequently licensed to HyProMag.
Rare earth magnets play a key role in clean energy technologies, including electric vehicles and wind turbine generators. They are also a key component in electronic devices including mobile phones, hard disk drives and loudspeakers.

Professor Allan Walton, Head of the Magnetic Materials Group at the University, and co-founder of HyProMag said: “Rare earth magnets are one of the building block materials for clean growth, but the recycling rates for these magnets are very low (<5%). The technologies developed in the MMG target the key challenges in order to efficiently extract these materials from a wide range of scrap sources, and to re-process these materials with a minimal environmental impact compared to primary production. Mkango / Maginito have been a strategic partner for both the University and Hypromag since 2018, with multiple joint research projects in the UK and EU. Over the last two years these projects have taken the HPMS process up the TRL levels to de-risk the technology. The investment from Maginito paves the way to fully commercialise the HPMS process and to take this technology to the global market.” Maginito focuses on developing green technology opportunities in the rare earths supply chain (90% owned by Mkango and 10% by CoTec). Mkango has partnered with HyProMag since its inception in 2018. A new US subsidiary, jointly owned by Maginito and CoTec, is expected to be formed to develop rare earth recycling opportunities in the United States. The companies have a shared vision to create a large-scale, international business focused on downstream rare earth technologies, with major competitive advantages in the rare earth recycling sector, including the patented energy-efficient technology for recycling magnet scrap. The development of domestic sources of recycled rare earths in the UK, Germany, United States and other territories is a significant opportunity to fast-track the development of sustainable and competitive recycled rare earth magnet production. HPMS is used to reduce permanent magnets containing neodymium (Nd) iron (Fe) and boron (B) to a demagnetised powder. The technology was developed by the late Professor Emeritus Rex Harris, former Head of the University’s Magnetic Materials Group, with Professor Allan Walton, current Head of the Magnetic Materials Group (MMG). Hypromag was founded in 2018 by Prof Walton and Harris alongside two Honorary Fellows, Dr John Speight and Mr David Kennedy, to develop a full recycling supply chain for rare earth magnets based upon neodymium iron boron (NdFeB). The MMG has been active in the field of rare earth alloys and processing of permanent magnets using hydrogen for over 40 years, and the four founding directors are all world-leading experts in the field of rare earth magnetic materials, alloys and hydrogen technology, with significant industry experience. A pilot plant for HPMS recycling opened at the University of Birmingham last year, and work is now underway to build a large scale ‘short loop’ recycling facility at Tyseley and other locations using the patented HPMS process to provide a sustainable solution for the supply of NdFeB magnets and alloys for a wide range of markets including automotive and electronics. First production is expected in the UK in 2023 and in Germany in 2024. Short loop magnet recycling is expected to have significant environmental benefit, requiring an estimated 88% less energy versus primary mining to in order to produce a sintered magnet. The Tyseley plant is being developed with the University of Birmingham and is expected to have a minimum production capacity of 100 tonnes a year. This £4.3 million project is being funded by Driving the Electric Revolution, an Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund delivered by UK Research and Innovation. Dr Jerel Whittingham, Head of Enterprise Acceleration at University of Birmingham Enterprise, said: “The strategic , economic and environmental importance of recycling rare earth metals is now widely recognised and it has been pleasing to note the continuing growth of HyProMag’s partnership with Mkango since the company was established in 2018, using IP developed at the University of Birmingham. The acquisition of HyProMag, including its facility at Tyseley Energy Park, is the ultimate validation of the value they have identified in HyProMag’s unique capabilities.” David Kennedy, Director of HyProMag, commented: “Building on the legacy of innovation in rare earth permanent magnets and hydrogen technologies pioneered by the late Prof. Rex Harris at the University of Birmingham, we founded HyProMag in 2018 with Rex as a founding shareholder. Our aim was to accelerate the commercialisation of the HPMS process, and our collaboration with Mkango has supported the company’s growth and enabled the participation in major collaborative projects on rare earth magnet recycling. We look forward to the next phase of growth at Tyseley Energy Park, scaling up the technology and showcasing rejuvenation of Birmingham’s industrial heritage, in parallel with the international roll-out.” The founding Directors and management of HyProMag will continue to provide support and work closely with Mkango and Maginito to further scale-up and roll-out the HPMS technology. William Dawes, CEO of Mkango, commented: “Since acquiring our initial interest in HyProMag in 2020, we have seen the company go from strength to strength, de-risking and further scaling-up the patented HPMS rare earth magnet recycling technology, building the team and developing further industry partnerships, all against the backdrop of growing interest in recycling and sustainable rare earth supply chains. We look forward to working closely with the HyProMag team as we continue to support the growth of the business.”


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