Belgian group eyes EU hub for rare earth materials

Belgian chemicals group Solvay has announced plans to invest tens of millions of euros in expanding its rare earth materials plant in La Rochelle, France to also serve the wind power, electric vehicle and electronics industries.

It already uses its La Rochelle plant to separate and recycle rare earths, and currently serves the automotive emissions control and semiconductors markets.

Solvay now plans new investment to expand and upgrade a unit that will enable production of separated rare earth oxides for permanent magnets. These can be used in wind turbines’ generators, electric vehicles’ traction motors, and many other applications in electronics, it explained.

It aims to gradually restart mothballed equipment and modify other equipment, before completing the upgrade in 2025.

The Belgian group unveiled its strategy after European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced plans for legislation to secure EU access to raw materials needed for energy transition technologies.

At present, most advanced magnets are imported from overseas, Solvay explained. It believes its new hub will help develop “European autonomy for these critical materials and also address the shortage of rare earth key elements by playing a proactive role in the recycling of magnets”.

It plans to pursue alliances with other rare earths companies, and is involved in European consortia to secure partnerships and funding.

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