Finding rare earth elements above ground, not underground

Urban Mining Company

Urban Mining Company Finding rare earth elements above ground, not underground

The first US commercial recycler of NdFeB magnets, a critical but finite resource with many applications

Company info

  • Founded 2012
  • Based in Austin, Texas
  • USD 20 million in funding
  • Building a 100,000 sq ft manufacturing facility in San Marcos, Texas
  • No chemical inputs or wastewater


Permanent magnets (specifically neodymium-iron-boron magnets, aka “NdFeB” magnets) are critical to many of the applications that we rely on in our modern lives. They can be found in a range of products from consumer electronics (hard disk drives, speakers, and headphones), to electric motors, generators and automobiles. Manufacturing NdFeB magnets from virgin metals relies on continual resource inputs, and is very environmentally taxing. Despite this, hundreds of thousands of tons of NdFeB magnets sit in landfills as the products that contain them are thrown away, often after their first use.

Urban Mining Image

The Innovation

By using the magnets found in end-of-use products as a feedstock, Urban Mining Company (UMC) has patented a process whereby they are able to reprocess the scrap magnets into new, custom made magnets. UMC’s magnets not only come with improved properties compared to the starting material, the fact that UMC uses recycled magnet as feedstock allows them to protect themselves from raw material price fluctuations that plague the rest of the market. This process is known as Magnet-to-Magnet™, or M2M™. Being able to produce magnets in this way reduces energy consumption, the impact on the environment, as well as the landfill space occupied by end-of-use magnets.

The Benefits

  • Saves 11 tons of CO2 per ton of magnet produced relative to magnets using virgin materials
  • Uses 52% of the energy used in traditional magnet manufacturing (this reduces further to 9% if avoidance of mining is included)
  • Produces no acidic wastewater, nor does it release or produce radioactive waste byproducts (by contrast, traditional rare-earth mining produces one ton of acidic and radioactive wastewater per ton of magnet produced)
  • Reduces carcinogens, smog, respiratory effects, and ozone depletion

ReferencesMashable, Youtube

Source: IA September 2017

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