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Siemens Heads Group Researching Cannibalization of Old Electric Motors to Build New Ones

Rare Earth Metal RecyclingFinite fossil fuels powering transportation is problematic for a number of reasons, one of them being the non-renewable nature of crude oil. One of the solutions is, of course, the electric car ultimately recharged with electricity provided by wind, solar, or geothermal energy. But there’s another bottleneck – the rare earth metals used to make electric motors.

Not Quite So Finite After All

Rare earth metals, as the name suggests, are rare. They’re used to make permanent magnets for electric motors and are essential for the motors to work. Most of them on the market today are currently supplied by the Chinese, and so far supply seems to be meeting demand. But as demand for electric and hybrid vehicles goes up, the demand for rare earth metals will increase accordingly.

Lucky for us, rare earth metals (while limited) aren’t quite in the same category as fossil fuels. The thing about rare earth metals is that they can be recycled and reused.

One project looking at how to efficiently reuse rare earth metals from consumer products is called MORE (MOtor REcycling). It’s part of a larger project funded by the German Federal Ministry of Research (the BMBF) called “STROM,” which stands for Key Technology for Electro-Mobility in German (it’s also a pun, as “Strom” means power or electricity, thus demonstrating that Germans do indeed have a sense of humor).

It’s All in the Details

MORE is led by German giant Siemens, and includes such partners as Daimler, the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovative Research, the Technical University of Clausthal and others. The group is looking at the entire life of an electric motor, from acquisition of raw materials through construction of the engine and ending with the vehicle the motor powers to best determine how to recycle the rare earth metals.

There are a number of ways of retrieving rare earth metals from electric motors – dismantling the magnets from old motors for use in new ones, repairing and reusing the motors in their entirety, or sorting and shredding rare-earth-containing material to get it out in its pure form. The question is which process (if any!) is safe, clean, and cheap.

The results of the project should be available by 2014 – anyone care to guess as to the results? Let us know what you think in the comments, below.


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Written By

spent 7 years living in Germany and Japan, studying both languages extensively, doing translation and education with companies like Bosch, Nissan, Fuji Heavy, and others. Charis has a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. She also believes that Janeway was the best Star Trek Captain.


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