Nissan Motor has begun testing a more efficient and less expensive process of recovering high-purity, rare-earth metals used in magnet motors for electric vehicles (EVs) in collaboration with Tokyo-based Waseda University, which is known for its research in non-ferrous recycling and smelting, with practical application targeted for the mid-2020s.

This follows Nissan’s Green Program 2022, which addresses climate change, resource reliance, air quality, and water security while maintaining the company’s goal of carbon neutrality.

The approach comprises a new recycling technology that recovers rare earth compounds without removing the motor, lowering the cost of the procedure and mitigating supply chain environmental harm.

The novel metallurgical procedure involves melting a recycled rotor in a 1,400°C furnace, adding iron oxide and a borate-based flux to oxidise the rare-earth metals, and then simply separating the resultant mixtures.

Testing has revealed that the technique can recover up to 98% of a motor’s rare-earth elements while halving the processing time and recycling cost, according to Kazuhiro Ogawa, a Senior Manager at Nissan. Ogawa said: “Reducing the use of rare earths is a key challenge as the resources are unevenly distributed, prices fluctuate depending on supply-demand balance, and the mining and smelting process has an impact on ecosystems.”

By the middle of the decade, Waseda University and Nissan plan to continue testing at large-scale facilities to establish a viable application for the method.