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La Rochelle

Solvay to invest in rare earth magnets

Solvay is to expand its rare earths operations in La Rochelle, France, to enter the value chain for permanent magnets based on alloys of rare earths. These are mostly imported into Europe at present and many rare earths are in short supply. The company itself claims to be the technology leader in their separation, recycling, purification, finishing and formulation.

The plant in La Rochelle is currently active in the automotive emissions control and semiconductors markets. This new investment will expand and upgrade an existing to produce separated rare earth oxides for permanent magnets, which are used among other things in the traction motors of electric vehicles (EVs) and the generation motors of wind turbines.

“Rare earths are essential to ensure the green energy transition. Our investments in the magnets’ value chain will help Europe power its new economy with more autonomous and sustainable solutions for electric mobility, clean energy generation and sensitive electronic applications,” said CEO Ilham Kadri.

La Rochelle has also just seen the inauguration of a pilot unit for solid-state batteries, which compete with lithium-ion batteries in EVs. The investment was supported by the Nouvelle Aquitaine region, the French state and the European Commission, as part of its Important Projects of Common European Interest programme.

Solvay said that having the new unit will enable it to scale up the development of advanced inorganic materials for solid electrolytes, while also assessing the industrial feasibility of the materials. It intends to carry out process studies to help prepare for the industrialisation phase in the coming years.

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