Leveraging Chromatography to Recover Rare Earth Metals

February 28, 2023 by Mike Falter

American Resources Corporation invests in a subsidiary that recycles rare earth metals from used lithium-ion batteries and magnets.

Rare earth metals are a group of minerals essential to many modern technology platforms, including smartphones, laptops, EVs, wind turbines, and military systems. Without them, these technologies cannot exist in their current form.  



Twenty-three rare earth and battery metals are essential to modern technology. Image used courtesy of ReElement

As the name suggests, rare earth metals are in short supply and often concentrated in a few geographic regions. A more diversified and secure supply of these materials is essential for the continued advancement and growth of the global economy. 


Recycling Rare Earth and Battery Metals  

American Resources Corporation has announced its new subsidiary, ReElement Technologies, launched to diversify and secure the global supply of rare earth metals through recycling and reuse. 

Seventeen rare earth elements and six battery metals comprise 23 essential metals that enable modern technology platforms. Today, many of the rare earth and battery metals used in energy generation platforms and electronic products are lost to landfills or smelting at end-of-life.  ReElement’s mission is to change this, leveraging the company’s proprietary technology to capture, process and purify rare earth metals from end-of-life, such as lithium-ion batteries and magnets.

In this manner, a circular economy is enabled where, functioning as a closed-loop system, all raw materials from end-of-life products are recovered and re-used. 

To achieve this, ReElement has built the first-of-its-kind metal recovery system that uses chromatography to separate and purify rare earth and battery metals like lithium, nickel, manganese, and cobalt.


Chromatographic Metal Recovery

Chromatographic separation and purification form the basis of ReElement’s metal recovery process, allowing the company to separate and purify rare earth and battery metals to purities in excess of 99% and at a fraction of the cost of other processes. 

As a new technique, chromatography addresses some of the limitations of other purification processes, such as direct and chemical recycling. 


Chromatographic separation and purification systems. Image used courtesy of ReElement


Direct recycling requires rigorous and expensive sorting and pre-processing procedures, while chemical techniques are energy intensive, with high carbon emissions and high levels of generated waste.  

According to ReElement, its chromatography techniques for metal recycling are safe for the environment with almost no wastewater discharge, very low energy requirements, and low hydrocarbon emissions.  

ReElement’s process first crushes the used magnets, or lithium batteries, into a powder that is then processed through mechanical/chemical separation and chromatographic purification. The now 99% pure metals are then segregated by wavelength to be sold and reused in new systems.

In the case of larger platforms, like windmills, the magnets can be quite large, but used materials of any size can be processed.  


Positive Impact of Recycling Metals

According to American Resources Corporation, recycling and reusing rare earth metals is important for several reasons:

  • The total amount of available rare earth metals is unknown, so it is prudent to conserve the use of these materials.
  • Mining for new metals can be impactful, or even destructive, to local environments. The ability to recycle previously mined metals reduces these impacts.
  • Re-processing rare metals can be less expensive than pulling new materials from the ground via mining operations.
  • It is estimated that 80% of all rare earth metals are physically located in China, and this concentration level within a single geography does not promote global economic security.
  • Instead of disposing of metals, recycling reduces the amount of waste material in landfills and other long-term storage facilities.


Each year, $3 billion worth of rare earth metals are thrown away or lost. Image used courtesy of ReElement


According to company estimates, $3 billion worth of rare earth metals is thrown away or lost annually. At its Noblesville, Indiana, facility, ReElement can process over 137,000 kg of battery and magnet materials into highly pure minerals and compounds.    

ReElement will initially focus its processing efforts on neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium, cobalt, lithium, nickel, and manganese, with plans to accommodate additional metals in the future. New sites for new facility construction have been identified to expand the company’s processing capacity.