Circular Economy of Critical Elements: Waste Valorisation in Magnet Recycling Process

   Chemistry & Chemical Engineering

  , ,  Friday, June 21, 2024  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Critical Elements are important for the economy, in particular for modern technologies, but their secure supply is at risk (for example, because they are sourced from a politically volatile region). For such elements, it is very important to develop closed recycling loops, in which waste components are processed to reclaim critical elements, that are subsequently reused. An example of such strategically important components, enabling the transition to renewable energy sources, are strong and lightweight Rare Earth Permanent Magnets (REPM), found in electric vehicles motors and off-shore wind turbines. Manufacturing of such magnets is reliant on rare earth elements, such as neodymium. 

Recycling end-of-life permanent magnets enables recovery of rare earths and transition metals, but also produces metal-rich waste streams containing iron, boron, phosphorus and other by-products. Conventionally, these are disposed of, but transforming them into useful co-products would significantly improve process sustainability and economy, leading to a truly circular technology. 

The aim of this PhD project is to undertake a comprehensive investigation into adding value to an industrial magnet recycling process, by recovering valuable elements from waste aqueous streams, and converting them to value-added products, in close collaboration with Belfast-based magnet recycling company, Ionic Technologies (co-sponsoring this project). Firstly, all species in the waste streams will be analysed to determine average composition (ICP, XRF) and chemical speciation. Following an extensive literature review on techniques and potential by-product applications, the project will focus on developing chemistry for adding value to iron, boron, and phosphorus-rich streams. Conventional routes to selective separations of some of these elements are known, but pose problems with phase-separation (formation of foams, suspensions, gels). Therefore, this project will develop innovative, selective extractions and precipitations strategies, using semi-sacrificial deep eutectic solvents (DES) to manage and control the phase behaviour.

A successful candidate will have interest in multi-technique spectroscopic speciation studies (using multinuclear NMR, UV-VIS, FT-IR and Raman spectroscopies in house, as well as EXAFS at synchrotron facilities), separations, and circular economy. At a later stage, they will rely on fundamental inorganic chemistry to selectively convert components of the waste stream into chemicals that have market value as commodity products, such as fertilisers, battery chemicals, catalysts, or pigments. Techno-economic assessment will be used to evaluate large-scale feasibility. This interdisciplinary, highly collaborative PhD project will equip the student for a successful career of their choice, be it academia or ever-growing clean technologies sector of industry. The student will be associated with Queen’s University Ionic Liquid Laboratories (QUILL) and will have an opportunity for frequent interactions with the industrial partner, as well as site visits to Ionic Technologies plant.

Applications must be submitted online, by the deadline, using the QUB Direct Application Portal

Chemistry (6)

Funding Notes

This funded project is open only to UK students or ROI students that meet the eligibility criteria. Full eligibility (including residency conditions) and funding information can be viewed via View Website 

Candidates must possess or expect to obtain, a 2:1 or first-class degree in Chemistry, Chemical Engineering or closely related discipline

Candidates must be available to start the post by October 2024

Register your interest for this project

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