The lighthouse project “Critical rare earths” has the underlying goal of “halving the specific primary demand for heavy rare earth elements” based on the application of permanent magnets and electric motors containing dysprosium and neodymium. The research is organized into five sub-projects: Material substitution (Dy-free magnets), more efficient processes (here metal production), optimized design (of permanently excited synchronous motors with a focus on small drives and traction motors), design for recycling, material flows, markets and the environment.
Fraunhofer ISI is in charge of sub-project 5 "Material flows, markets and the environment". A detailed understanding of the market for rare earths, the underlying material flows and their dynamics provides important guidance for the technological developments in the research project and their applicability on the market. This also applies to any possible substitutes. The objective of the activities at Fraunhofer ISI is to deepen the understanding of the market and make the physical material flows more transparent by developing dynamic models using the system dynamics approach. Using these models, it is possible to estimate the required quantities of primary and secondary raw materials over time (when, how much and in what quality). Because the extraction and processing of rare earths is linked with considerable environmental problems, the potential contribution the technologies and approaches developed in the lighthouse project can make to reduce environmental pollution is also analyzed. Furthermore, in the sub-project "Design for Recycling", a case study is made of recycling pedelecs as a possible stepping stone to developing recycling technologies and systems for NdFeB magnets.