Fraunhofer Lighthouse Project Critical Rare Earths

The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft is setting strategic objectives in its lighthouse projects to develop practical solutions which benefit Germany’s economy. The topics are geared towards industry‘s requirements. The goal is turn original scientific ideas into marketable products as quickly as possible. The participating Fraunhofer institutes pool their expertise and integrate industrial partners at an early stage in the projects.

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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.


15.11.2013 - 14.11.2017

Project coordinator

  • Fraunhofer Institute for Microstructure of Materials and Systems IMWS


  • Fraunhofer Institute for Structural Durability and System Reliability LBF
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials IWM
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology IWU
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials IFAM
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB
  • Fraunhofer Project Group Material Cycles and Resource Strategies IWKS (within Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC)
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI