Electric vehicles have always been seen as the eco-friendly mobility alternative. However, making one isn’t necessarily kind to Mother Nature. The production and the use of EVs also leave a huge carbon footprint. And so, carmakers are racing to find ways to make these green vehicles even greener. It seems like Nissan is ahead of the game.
The Japanese carmaker has worked with Waseda University in Tokyo in the fields of metal recycling and smelting. Three years into their collaboration, the two have developed a new pyrometallurgy process to get rare-earth elements (REE) from motors without the need for disassembly.
The process requires that pig iron and a carburizing material be added to the motor before being heated to at least 1,400°C to melt it. Iron oxide is thrown into the mix to oxidize the REEs. A sprinkle of borate-based flux dissolves rare-earth oxides at lower temperatures, where the molten mixture ends up into two layers. The resulting slag (molten oxide layer with REEs) floats, while the iron-carbon alloy material sinks to the bottom. Finally, the REEs are extracted from the slag.
Simply put, this entire procedure helps Nissan effectively and efficiently recover up to 98% of rare earths from recycled electric motors. By reducing the steps and cutting work time by up to 50%, the automaker will have far smaller carbon footprint in producing new motors, helping it achieve its goal of carbon-neutrality.
Furthermore, this will significantly lessen the dependence on mining for rare-earth metals. This should help stabilize the dwindling supply and keep vehicle production costs low, which should be welcome news for consumers. Nissan intends to use this process in its EV recycling hubs by the mid-2020s in line with its Nissan Green Program 2022.