Since 2017, LCM has been making Neodymium Metal on-site commercially, with the process operated to high Environmental, Health and Safety standards.
With this advantage, LCM continues to develop the capability to expand the range of products, increase monitoring and automation time, and further improve environmental management.
We understand you may have some questions about this, so we have collated some frequently asked questions to save you time.
What personal protective equipment (PPE) is used?
The standard PPE are safety glasses, safety visor/helmet, ear protectors, safety boots, heat resistant jacket and trousers and work gloves.
For metal handling our operators additionally wear a heat-resistant gauntlet, air-flow full face mask and a portable gas monitor.
Do you think the process of Neodymium production could be automated in the future? Perhaps with the help of AI to learn how to control the process?
The answer is yes, and this is also a consideration of LCM when exploring our journey through the metal-making process. As this is a facilitator stage, and process improvement and automation are absolutely beneficial, even if viewed solely in isolation from a health and safety perspective it has huge benefits.
In addition, to Dy and Tb, Chinese magnet producers are using more and more Ho and Gd. Is LCM also interested in producing these metals?
It is an interesting point, and we have the capability to process these elements but at this stage, LCM would not be looking to procure them. There is little evidence to suggest that Gd or Ho elements are used to improve the properties of the NdFeB magnets but suggestions that they are mainly used as fillers to the main composition.
Does LCM have plans to make Dy or DyFe metal? Is there any difference between the process?
Yes, LCM plan to make DyFe and the difference is in the name.
Making pure Dysprosium metal requires a very high melting point and for the cell to operate consistently at a very high temperature, this poses numerous issues, not least the health and safety perspective of the operative. To alleviate some of these issues, the route LCM intends to explore in the upcoming year is to create a Dysprosium Iron Alloy (DyFe) mixture of the two elements.
For alloys processed into magnets, this combination is a perfect route, as A. The metal can be processed at lower and more health and safety-conscious temperature for the operators and the cells. B. As Iron is a constituent of any magnet alloy composition as such a binary alloy is a perfect addition.
Is there a recycling pathway for the consumables involved in Nd production, such as the anodes and cathodes?
We recycle what we are able throughout the process and those consumables which we cannot are stored for future processing, one of those is our anodes. We are in the process of initiating a project where spent anodes will be ground and fired to make new anodes, and as our processing increases, this will provide a nice circular recycle route, responsibly maintaining environmental sustainability whilst helping with the economics of the process.
From an environmental standpoint, will there be a drive to look at reclaiming material from end-of-life products? Is this done already or is it something in the pipeline to consider?
This is an area in which LCM already has a proactive role, not only through our own commercial customer base but also via our direct support in several EU projects to recycle end-of-life magnets – you can view these projects here.
Closer to home we also support our UK Academic Research Institutes in the same pursuit and are in the closing stages of our very own project to support UK recycled magnets, collaborating with some key industry manufacturers…watch this space!
What does the current landscape for non-Chinese sources of rare earths, especially heavy rare earths, look like? Do you see any sources for ore, or metals coming online in the next five years?
You would not be far wrong in the assumption that China has had a huge lead in terms of processing and seemingly are able to acquire an abundance of RE material. It is not only because of State backing but China also has excellent natural resources. I think it would be an obvious statement that any over-dependence in a one-source supply is a strategic weak point.
Nevertheless, there needs to be a greater realisation of this very point not only by OEMs but by individual Governments moving forward. This point has been recognised recently and there is an abundance of new RM sources and process routes out there, with consortia being established to seek alternative, sustainable and transparent supply chains which are also commercially competitive.
LCM has been assigned by the UK Government to carry out a feasibility study to explore a fully integrated supply chain for RE Permanent Magnet production in the UK. Again, watch this space…. More to come!