Cleaner way to make rare-earths

US technology start-up Infinium is ramping up development of a new "clean" way of producing rare-earth metals that are key for wind turbine permanent magnet generators (PMGs).

The Massachusetts company, formerly called MOxST, is expanding facilities purpose-designed for the breakthrough process, which can make dysprosium, neodymium, magnesium and other materials.

Infinium's oxide-based process, which uses inert anodes and high-purity materials to "virtually eliminate" emissions, moves away from environmentally unfriendly techniques often used offshore, where regulations are "dramatically less stringent", says chief executive Steve Derezinski.

"We clearly saw the continuing gap in onshore metals refining capability at least through the next decade," he says.

"We decided to accelerate our investment in this area, in parallel with the increasingly critical commercial needs for various rare-earth metals, including dysprosium, neodymium and others."

About 90% of the world's current production of rare-earth minerals is done in China. These materials are used in wind and tidal turbine drivetrains' PMGs, along with various defence, transportation and consumer products.