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Recycling Electric Motors as Source of Raw Materials

Led by Siemens, a consortium of partners from industry and research are developing solutions for recycling electric motors. The consortium is focusing on permanent magnets, which contain a high proportion of rare earth metals and are needed for electric and hybrid vehicles.

In their efforts to develop a solution suitable for application in industry, the partners in the MORE (MOtor REcycling) project are taking into account all links in the value chain — from design and production of motors to retrologistics to reuse in vehicles. The project is being funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

Permanent magnets with a rare earth metals content of 30 percent are needed for compact, lightweight synchronous motors. Demand for rare earths will rise sharply in the coming years — due to increasing production of electric and hybrid vehicles, to name one reason. On the one hand, China has monopolized the supply of rare earths, so supply shortages can be expected. This is why the BMBF is promoting, among other things, development of resource-conserving technologies for electric vehicles with its “Key Technologies for Electric Mobility” (STROM) initiative.

The researchers working on the MORE project are taking various approaches to electric motor recycling: removal of the roughly one-kilogram magnet from scrap motors, repair and subsequent reuse of the electric motor or its components, and reuse of the magnet materials and raw materials, and the rare earth metals, following their extraction from pre-sorted and shredded materials. Also being developed are concepts for a recycling-compatible motor design, as well as ecological efficiency analyses and models for material cycles.

The results of the project are scheduled to be presented by 2014. The participating experts are from Siemens, Daimler, Umicore, Vacuumschmelze, the University of Erlangen, the Clausthal University of Technology, Oeko-Institut Darmstadt, and the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI. In the future, the technologies developed during the project could be used for applications in other fields in which rare earths play a key role, for example in wind turbines.

Dr. Norbert Aschenbrenner | Siemens InnovationNews
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