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Economic Assessment for Recycling Critical Metals From Hard Disk Drives Using a Comprehensive Recovery Process


Since the 2011 price spike of rare earth elements (REEs), research on permanent magnet recycling has blossomed globally in an attempt to reduce future REE criticality. Hard disk drives (HDDs) have emerged as one feasible feedstock for recovering valuable REEs such as praseodymium, neodymium, and dysprosium. Nevertheless, current processes for recycling electronic waste only focus on certain metals as a result of feedstock and metal price uncertainties. In addition, there is a perception that recycling REEs is unprofitable. To shed some light on the economic viability of REE recycling from U.S. HDDs, this article combines techno-economic information of an electro-hydrometallurgical process with end-of-life HDD availability in a simulation model. The results showed that adding REE recovery to an HDD base and precious metal recovery process was profitable given current prices. Recovered REEs from U.S. HDDs could meet up to 5.2% rest-of-world (excluding China) neodymium magnet demand. Feedstock, aluminum, and gold prices are key factors to recycling profitability. REEs contributed 13% to the co-recycling profit.

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This work is supported by the Critical Materials Institute, an Energy Innovation Hub funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Advanced Manufacturing Office. We thank Dr. Bill Olson (Seagate Technology), Ian Lovell (Teleplan), and Dr. Carol Handwerker (Purdue University) for their assistance with understanding the electronics remanufacturing industry and opportunities for electronics recycling. We thank Nora Heikkinen for her support in figure editing. This manuscript has been authored by Battelle Energy Alliance, LLC under Contract No. DE-AC07-05ID14517 with the U.S. Department of Energy. The U.S. government retains and the publisher, by accepting the article for publication, acknowledges that the U.S. government retains a nonexclusive, paid-up, irrevocable, world-wide license to publish or reproduce the published form of this manuscript, or allow others to do so, for U.S. government purposes.

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Correspondence to Ruby Thuy Nguyen.

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Appendix 1

figure a

Annual REO Sales and Percent ROW Magnet Demand Met

Appendix 2

figure b

Main Revenue Streams from HDD Recycling with and without REO Recovery

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Nguyen, R.T., Diaz, L.A., Imholte, D.D. et al. Economic Assessment for Recycling Critical Metals From Hard Disk Drives Using a Comprehensive Recovery Process. JOM 69, 1546–1552 (2017).

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