Rare earth elements have a wide variety of applications, such as various electronics equipment and wind turbines, but the issue is their, well, rarity (which we’ve written about previously here). To battle this problem, researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) have developed a method for extracting rare earth elements from the drive units and motors of discarded electric and hybrid cars.
Marion Emmert, assistant professor chemistry, chemical engineering, and mechanical engineering at WPI, and postdoctoral fellow H.M. Dharmmika Bandara have found a way to recover neodymium, dysprosium, and praseodymium from old vehicles. The technique relies on a two-step chemical extraction process, which also allows for the recovery of other recyclable materials, including steel chips and other useful materials from the drive units.
Because the vast majority of rare earth elements come from the single source of China, as we’ve written about here, this technique has the potential to provide a much-needed alternate source.