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German project investigates motor recycling techniques

02 February, 2012

The German government is funding a project, led by Siemens, to develop techniques for recycling electric motors. In particular, the More (MOtor REcycling) project will focus on techniques for recycling rare-earth materials used in permanent magnets.

Permanent magnets containing around 30% of rare earth materials are vital for the compact, lightweight synchronous motors that will be needed increasingly to power electric and hybrid vehicles (unless acceptable alternative technologies can be developed). But China, which currently dominates the production of rare earths, has been restricting their sales and raising their prices.

The members of the More consortium – which include Daimler, Vacuumschmelze and the Fraunhofer Institute – are looking at all links in the chain from the design and production of motors, through to their eventual re-use.

They are examining various approaches to motor recycling including:
•  the removal of magnets, each weighing about 1kg, from scrap motors;
•  the repair and re-use of motors or their components; and
•  the re-use of the magnet materials and raw materials, including rare earths, after they have been extracted from pre-sorted and shredded materials.

The consortium is also developing concepts for designing recycling-compatible motors, as well as performing ecological efficiency analyses and developing models for material cycles.

The results of the More project are due to be presented by 2014. The technologies developed during the project could also be applied to other applications where rare earths play a key role, such as wind turbines.

♦ According to a recent study by IMS Research, light vehicles each contained an average of 25 motors last year, creating an annual global demand for about two billion motors. By 2018, IMS expects this demand to rise to around 3.5 billion motors, as more cars are bought in developing countries and as lower-cost cars incorporate more motors for uses such as HVAC systems and electric windows. IMS predicts that around 16 million electric vehicles will be built annually by 2021, nearly 60% of them using hybrid drives.

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