Nav: Home

CMI, Oddello Industries pursue recovery of rare-earth magnets from used hard drives

August 16, 2016

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Aug. 16, 2016--A process developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory for large-scale recovery of rare earth magnets from used computer hard drives will undergo industrial testing under a new agreement between Oddello Industries LLC and ORNL, as part of the Department of Energy's Critical Materials Institute. The effort was announced today at CMI's annual meeting at ORNL.

The world's most powerful magnets are manufactured using rare earth elements such as neodymium. These magnets are essential to the operation of everything from computer hard drives to electric and hybrid vehicles, electric bicycles, wind turbines, cell phones, air conditioners, and other appliances and industrial equipment.

Need for the element is rising as demand for consumer products and clean energy technologies grows. However, more than 95 percent of worldwide production of neodymium occurs outside the United States.

That's where recycling can create a new supply stream. Although the U.S. does not produce much neodymium, it does have vast sources of used consumer products from which to recover magnets made from rare earth elements. How to do so economically on a large scale is a question that researchers at DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have studied and will now test on a production line under construction at an Oddello facility in Morristown, Tennessee.

The recycling method "can give you magnets that are already made, compared to digging up the ore and all the processing and expense required to get to the end product," said Tim McIntyre, program manager in ORNL's Electrical and Electronics Systems Research Division and the project lead.

McIntyre and other researchers developed a cost-effective method for recycling hard drives that employs a unique system to sort and align them on a conveyer for processing. The method uses a mapping station with barcode scanning and a coordinate measuring machine to populate a database of each make of hard drive so they may be positioned for correct robotic disassembly.

The testing will explore two methods for magnet recovery: ultra-high-speed fastener removal and punching. The system will recover the magnets, their permalloy brackets, circuit boards, aluminum and steel, and also destroys data storage media to ensure security.

The process recovers the magnets intact, enabling their direct reuse by hard drive manufacturers or for use in motor assemblies, alternate uses through resizing or reshaping, or processing back to rare earth metal.

Some 115 million hard drives will reach the end of their first useful life in 2016 alone, McIntyre noted. Currently, about 60 percent of those are refurbished and sold into secondary markets, 5 percent end up in landfills, and 35 percent are shredded because of data security concerns. The process for recycling and recovery will target that 35 percent, with the potential of recovering some 1,000 metric tons of magnet material per year.

Oddello's experience designing and installing highly automated production lines made the firm an ideal partner to work with in employing the technology. The contract manufacturer operates several production lines in a 650,000-square-foot facility at its Morristown headquarters.

"We are always eager to work with organizations like the CMI and ORNL," said Oddello Chief Operating Officer Thomas Roberts. "Anything we can work on that involves a challenge of high volume and automation is intriguing to us." Roberts said the line is currently being installed with the help of ORNL and is expected to begin operating this fall.

"This work will remove a major barrier to recycling critical magnet materials," said CMI Director Alex King. "It is going to make a big impact."

ORNL is hosting the institute's fourth annual meeting August 16-18, at which members and affiliates will hear the latest developments to ensure access to critical materials for US industry.
ORNL is managed by UT-Battelle for DOE's Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. DOE's Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit

About the Critical Materials Institute:

The Critical Materials Institute is a Department of Energy Innovation Hub led by the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory and supported by DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy's Advanced Manufacturing Office. CMI seeks ways to eliminate and reduce reliance on rare-earth metals and other materials critical to the success of clean energy technologies.

Image 1:

Cutline 1: Rare earth magnet assembly recovered from a used hard drive.

Image 2:

Cutline 2: Model of a punching device to be tested for recovering magnet assemblies.

Image 3:

Cutline 3: A typical used hard drive targeted for disassembly.

Image 4:

Cutline 4: ORNL Director Thom Mason (left) and Thomas Roberts of Oddello Industries LLC sign a research and development agreement.

NOTE TO EDITORS: You may read other press releases from Oak Ridge National Laboratory or learn more about the lab at Additional information about ORNL is available at the sites below:

Twitter -
RSS Feeds -
Flickr -
YouTube -
LinkedIn -
Facebook -

DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Related Recycling Articles:

How the cellular recycling system is put on hold while cells divide
Research involving several teams at the Babraham Institute, Cambridge, UK, has shown that cellular recycling (autophagy) is repressed during the process of cell division, and how repression of autophagy during mitosis utilises a different master regulator.
Rethinking the science of plastic recycling
A multi-institutional collaboration reports a catalytic method for selectively converting discarded plastics into higher quality products.
Corals take control of nitrogen recycling
Corals use sugar from their symbiotic algal partners to control them by recycling nitrogen from their own ammonium waste.
Molecular biophysics -- the ABC of ribosome recycling
Ribosomes, the essential machinery used for protein synthesis is recycled after each one round of translation.
Biochemistry: Versatile recycling in the cell
Ribosomes need regenerating. This process is important for the quality of the proteins produced and thus for the whole cell homeostasis as well as for developmental and biological processes.
Algae-killing viruses spur nutrient recycling in oceans
Scientists have confirmed that viruses can kill marine algae called diatoms and that diatom die-offs near the ocean surface may provide nutrients and organic matter for recycling by other algae, according to a Rutgers-led study.
Improving heat recycling with the thermodiffusion effect
In a study recently published in EPJ E, researchers find that the absorption of water vapour within industrial heat recycling devices is directly tied to a physical process known as the thermodiffusion effect.
Awareness of product transformation increases recycling
A plastic bottle becomes a jacket, an aluminum can a bicycle.
Clean and effective electronic waste recycling
E-waste recycling is far below what it should be to reduce its impact on the environment and human health simply because it is not economically feasible.
New 'blue-green' solution for recycling world's batteries
Rice University materials scientists demonstrate an environmentally friendly solution to remove valuable cobalt and lithium metals from spent lithium-ion batteries.
More Recycling News and Recycling Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

In & Out Of Love
We think of love as a mysterious, unknowable force. Something that happens to us. But what if we could control it? This hour, TED speakers on whether we can decide to fall in — and out of — love. Guests include writer Mandy Len Catron, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, musician Dessa, One Love CEO Katie Hood, and psychologist Guy Winch.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#542 Climate Doomsday
Have you heard? Climate change. We did it. And it's bad. It's going to be worse. We are already suffering the effects of it in many ways. How should we TALK about the dangers we are facing, though? Should we get people good and scared? Or give them hope? Or both? Host Bethany Brookshire talks with David Wallace-Wells and Sheril Kirschenbaum to find out. This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News. Related links: Why Climate Disasters Might Not Boost Public Engagement on Climate Change on The New York Times by Andrew Revkin The other kind...
Now Playing: Radiolab

An Announcement from Radiolab