Here’s How Nissan Plans to Salvage Rare Earth Metals from EV Motors
Nissan is looking to tap onto all the wasted precious material that goes along with discarded EV motors and has developed a new recycling process that they hope to perfect and adopt fully by 2025. The Japanese automaker has been working on this process since 2017 and recently started testing it more extensively.
The goal is to recover valuable rare-earth metals that are everywhere inside EV motors but are so hard to separate and capture. To achieve that, the motor is heated up to 1,400 degrees Celsius (2,552 Fahrenheit), so that everything melts completely. Then, iron oxide is added into the mixture to oxidize the rare-earth metals that are to be extracted. This step separates the mixture into two distinct liquid layers, with the one that contains the rare-earth metals floating on the top.
It may sound like a lengthy and complicated process, but it actually takes only half the time needed to completely disassemble the EV motors and extract rare earth metals from them using conventional methods, which is what Nissan currently does. Also, the yields are incomparable.
The new uses for these metals, most notably neodymium and dysprosium, include brand-new EV motors, solar panels, wind turbines, and other specialized machines that rely on strong magnetism. In total, there are 17 minerals inside EV motors that are worth going through the tedious process of extracting, but the most important for car manufacturers are the two mentioned above.
One compelling motivation for carmakers like Nissan to salvage what they can from older EV motors is the fact that those rare earth metals are increasingly harder and costlier to source. Some are experimenting with induction motors that don’t feature permanent magnets, but these are generally less effective. Nissan is trying to develop motors that use less dysprosium, managing to reduce it by 40% twice in the last decade.