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FAQs & Glossary


The rare earth elements (REE) are a set of seventeen metallic elements. These include the fifteen lanthanides on the periodic table plus scandium and yttrium. REEs are key components in many electronic devices that we use in our daily lives, as well as in a variety of industrial applications.

Rare earths are not rare but very difficult to mine because they are not present in their pure form as rich ore bodies. The difficulty of extracting, processing processes and exceeding demand in high tech applications makes it “rare”.

Critical Raw Materials (CRMs) are those raw materials which are economically and strategically important for the European economy, but have a high-risk associated with their supply. They are used in consumer electronics, health, steel-making, environmental technologies, defense, space exploration, and aviation. The materials are not only “critical” for key industry sectors and future applications, but also for the sustainable functioning of the European economy.


What are Critical Raw Materials
Source: European Commission CRM, 2020

NdFeB are high strength permanent magnets with superior magnetic properties used in various applications such as electronic devices, electric motors and generators for windmills. There is a large commercial potential because of iron as it is cheap and abundantly available. The worldwide demand of NdFeB magnets has increased from 6700 tons to 16,142 tons from year 2018 to 2022 making it extremely important with the progressive technology shift in rare earth magnet industry.


Source: Garside, M. (2021, 03 08). Statista. Retrieved from Mining, Metals & Minerals

Recycling of permanent magnets is very important to reduce the dependency on the primary supply of REEs in future. The Global Stock of major three REE elements present in NdFeB magnets was calculated to be 94kt with a distribution of Nd with 62.6% and Pr/Dy occupying 15.7% of the total. (Yang, et al., 2017).

 If this stock is efficiently recycled can sufficiently add resources in the geological stock. Another major advantage of recycling is prevention of radioactive waste produced during the extraction of REEs from the primary resources (Krishnamurthy & Gupta, 2016). Moreover, recycling also tackle the challenge of “Balance problem”, mostly to extract Nd/Dy excess of La/Ce is also mined because they exist in the same ore body.

Source: Garside, M. (2021, 03 08). Statista. Retrieved from Mining, Metals & Minerals


The major challenge nowadays in the REEs European value chain is the heavy reliance on imports from third countries, but particularly from China, as more than 90% of REEs for magnet manufacturer are produced in this country. This then results in a high supply risk for these materials to Europe and the transition towards a green economy is vulnerable.

The REEPRODUCE project aims at setting up, for the first time, a resilient and complete European REEs-recycling value chain, at industrial scale for the recovery of REEs with environmentally friendly, and socially sustainable technologies. It aims to have 70%-reduction in the Environmental Single Score, and min. 25%-reduction in total costs compared to Chinese-based production. Additionally, the implementation of the REEPRODUCE REEs-recycling route in Europe would imply a min. 53% better social sustainable performance.

The most promising EoL products containing REEs are:

  • Electric motors from end-of-life vehicles (ELVs).
  • Household WEEE: electric motors  from air conditioning systems, hard-disc drives, audio systems, screens etc.
  • Industrial applications: pumps, wind turbines, magnetic separators.


In 2020, the European Commission launched the European Raw Materials to address challenges in the critical raw materials.

The first value chain it addresses is rare earth magnets and motors. ERMA ran a stakeholder consultation process with more than 180 innovators from industry, academia, policymaking, and investment to better understand what needs to be done to revive a European rare earths industry. It led to four key recommendations and actions that would mobilise investment in an EU rare earths industry, which is of strategic importance for key EU industrial ecosystems and the green transition.

Read the full report: Rare Earth Magnets and Motors: A European Call for Action.


Hydrometallurgical recovery can be defined as a metal recovery method used to obtain metals from ores and waste materials using aqueous media by combining water, oxygen, and other chemical reagents with or without the use of a pressurized environment. The principal processes employed during the hydrometallurgical treatment of the resources mainly include leaching, solvent, extraction, ion exchange and precipitation, which varies depending on the material of interest to be recovered.

An electric motor is an electrical machine that converts electrical energy into mechanical energy. Powder metal components for motors generally consist of iron, nickle, and cobalt, most of them Critical Raw Materials.

This technology will help preserve the environment through energy efficiency and reduction of harmful waste. It is a type of technology that has no net adverse effect on the environment and uses a sustainable source of energy. These eco-friendly technologies have been more and more commonplace since they are not only a benefit to the environment, but they can also be a benefit to the consumer as well.

Permanent Magnets (PMs) are materials where the magnetic field is generated by the internal structure of the material itself. PMs are directly linked and critical to the energy transition due to their applications in electric motors and wind power. They are made from special alloys (ferromagnetic materials) such as iron, nickel and cobalt, several alloys of rare-earth and minerals such as lodestone.

Recycling rare-earth elements containing products will provide a domestic source of rare earths to European manufacturers while also reducing waste. Today, the main bottleneck to recycling REEs is the cost required to purify the mixtures obtained from consumer devices. 

Thanks to smart recycling techniques, rare materials can be recovered. These techniques can dismantle REEs into differing components in order to be reused or recycled. The majority of the separate waste fractions can be sorted and reused.
In the context of manufacturing, the ‘end-of-life’is the final stages of a product’s existence or a product being retired. Retirement can involve recovery and recycling – waste management and energy recovery. Optimise recycling routes for high-recycling and recovery rates. 
High-temperature electrolysis (also HTE or steam electrolysis) is a technology for producing hydrogen from water at high temperatures. Steam is dissociated to H2 and O2 at temperatures between 700 and 1000°C. n electrolysis, system efficiencies increase with increasing operating temperatures. Therefore HTE is known to be more efficient than the conventional electrolysis at room temperature.  
Rare-earth magnets are strong permanent magnets made from alloys of rare-earth elements. A rare earth magnet is a magnet made from one of the rare earth elements (of which there are 17) in the Lanthanide series of metals in the periodic table. The two most common rare earth magnets are Neodymium (Nd-Fe-B) and Samarium Cobalt (SmCo). Today, 16.000 tons of rare-earth PMs are consumed each year in renewable energy, machine tools, robotics, loudspeakers, water pumps, mobility and ICT. 
Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulation (WEEE) is a directive in the European Union that designates safe and responsible collection, recycling and recovery procedures for all types of electronic waste such as computers, mobile phones, kitchen appliances, etc. These products can pose environmental and health risks from exposure to lead, mercury and other heavy metals. The WEEE regulation aims to reduce these risks by providing a safe way to get rid of these materials.