The continued electrification of society will be key in curbing carbon emissions and mitigating the worst effects of climate change. A major barrier to achieving that goal, however, is a projected shortage of so-called rare earth metals critical to a range of technologies, including electric vehicles and wind turbines.
Kingston, Ontario-based Cyclic Materials aims to remedy this issue using one of the oldest tricks in the resource management playbook: recycling.
Most metals are produced with approximately 40 per cent recycled material, but only about one per cent of rare earths are recovered at the end of life, meaning that the rare earth circular economy could grow as much as forty-fold in the coming years. A robust supply chain for recycled rare earths will accelerate domestic production of these materials, which are deemed critical by many western countries. Recycling will also decrease the need for new green-field mining projects, which can take years to break ground, require massive capital investment and carry profound environmental consequences.
With Cyclic Material’s innovative recovery process, the circular supply chain for rare earths is no longer a pipe dream. The company recently announced the completion of its proof-of-concept bench-scale test work, carried out at Kingston Process Metallurgy Inc. (KPM), as well as the delivery of the first samples of high-purity recycled rare earth oxides to downstream service providers. Cyclic Materials is now focused on building its pilot plant, the first step towards scaling up its recycling process to satisfy exploding demand.
“There is a huge opportunity to produce rare earth elements in a more responsible and sustainable way,” says Cyclic Materials CEO Ahmad Ghahreman. “We aspire to reduce the pressure to open 3-4 new mines, thereby improving land use and reducing the use of harsh processing chemicals.”
Cyclic Materials CEO and Co-Founder Ahmad Ghahreman. Credit: Cyclic Materials.
The goal is ambitious but backed by Ghahreman’s proven track record as an innovator in the field of resource extraction. Processes that he invented are currently being employed, at scale, to turbocharge the efficiency of copper mines across the world, and introduce recycled lithium back into the supply chain. With this initial sample delivery, Cyclic Materials has taken the first step towards revolutionizing rare earths recycling in a similar fashion.
“[This] shipment of sample product is an important step in the creation of a sustainable supply of these critical metals,” adds Ghahreman. “It demonstrates the high-quality product we produce and will allow us to build the downstream supply chain necessary to create rare earth magnets with 100% recycled material.”
Benefits of this circular recovery system:
Cyclic Materials was recently one a few first successful cleantech start-up companies accepted into the GreenCentre Canada Advance-ON program, which is funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.
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Featured image: Electronics use rare earths to miniaturize components and maximize functionality.