Innovation Exchange challenge: Protective coating of NdFeB sintered magnets

HyProMag is looking to use Open Innovation to develop protective coating solutions for sintered neodymium-iron-boron (NdFeB) magnets.

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Successful applicants will be given an opportunity to pitch to HyProMag with a project proposal. Selected solutions will be trialled with a 3-month sprint project and £25k funding, with potential for further collaboration if trials are successful. The solution has potential to be applied to an initial minimum 100 tonnes per year commencing during 2025 with further expansion following.

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With the UK’s plans for Net Zero by 2050, the energy transition and move towards electrification is driving the demand for rare earth elements such as neodymium. Worldwide magnet demand is projected to increase five-fold by 2030 (Reference – Adamas Intelligence), with China currently dominating all parts of the supply chain from primary raw materials through to recycling and remanufacturing.

Our challenge holder, HyProMag, is a UK based company using a patented recycling technology (developed by The University of Birmingham) to separate rare earth (NdFeB) magnets from end-of-life hard drives, electric motors and other components and subsequently recycle the recovered material into new magnets. Currently operating at pilot scale, HyProMag is scaling fast with initial production of 10 tonnes of sintered magnets per year, ramping to 100-330 tonnes per year in the near future.

While HyProMag, alongside academic partner The University of Birmingham, are leading on bringing sintered NdFeB magnet manufacturing expertise back to the UK, there are several post processing steps where they require additional support.

  • The vast majority of NdFeB magnets need to be coated after sintering because they are susceptible to corrosion from oxygen and moisture, but technology and know-how to do this is currently retained by the primary magnet manufacturers.

    In primary manufacture, commonly used coatings include:

    • Zinc (Zn),
    • Nickel (Ni),
    • Triple layer of nickel-copper-nickel, (Ni-Cu-Ni)
    • Phosphor conversion passivation

    The challenge holder is willing to consider both these more traditional coatings, or other novel coatings with equivalent properties.

    Partners are sought who can develop either the metallic coatings themselves, novel coating methods for existing coatings or other appropriate barrier technologies for the corrosion protection of sintered NdFeB magnets. Partial solutions will be considered.

    The objective is to achieve an ultimate coating thickness of approximately 5 to 30 microns (depending on coating material), these must demonstrate good adhesion, coating structure and corrosion resistance with negligible impact on the magnetic properties.

    The solution would ideally be readily scalable, initially to 10 tonnes/year, but with scope for ultimately scaling to multiple hundred tonnes/year of coated magnets. Coating methods could include but are not limited to:

    • Chemical vapour deposition/Physical vapour deposition
    • Chemical and electrochemical techniques
    • Spray coating
    • Printing
    • Powder coating
    • Electroless plating
  • This funded programme gives the solution provider an exclusive opportunity to transfer existing technology to a new sector and application and become a vital part of the supply chain for the UK in rare earth magnets.

    If successful the solution provider has the potential of becoming a preferred contractor, guaranteeing future business coating magnets for the challenge holder.

    The benefits package for a successful applicant may also include:

    • Support from Innovate UK Business Connect and Business Growth
    • Support in the development of a prototype or pilot
    • Technical support
    • Invitation to attend or present at IUK events
    • A potential business collaboration
    • Investor introductions (if investment is required)
    • Support with any Innovate UK or similar competitions (if relevant)
  • NdFeB readily corrodes when exposed to air or moisture and therefore any pre-treatments or coating processes should be carefully considered to prevent damage to the underlying surface microstructure.

    The solution should provide a scalable solution for applying a protective coating to sintered NdFeB magnets of both cuboid and cylindrical shape, ranging from 2mm to 70mm in diameter.

    The coating should provide a continuous 5 µm – 30 µm thick layer (depending on the coating material) that is well adhered to the magnet with minimal porosity or inclusions. This needs to be stable up to a temperature of 250ºC, and be able to withstand an elevated pressure (up to 800mbar above atmospheric) and humid environment.

    Where possible, the solution should aim to minimise the use of any chemicals that are hazardous to the environment and/or human health.

    Batch or continuous processes will be considered, but the coated samples should be visually uniform.

    Samples of sintered NdFeB of different morphologies will be provided to undertake these trials.

    Upon return of the coated samples, corrosion testing will take place comparing the corrosion resistance with that of typical magnets purchased from a primary manufacturer. This will be carried out following the industry standard HAST methodology by HyProMag.

    The HAST corrosion test involves placing the magnets in a chamber at an overpressure (800mbar), <90% rel. humidity and at <100ºC for a number of days. The magnets are evaluated on their magnetic properties, appearance, mechanical properties and mass change compared with the starting sample.

  • Organic based coatings such as epoxides are out of scope, and HyProMag will not consider the use of any harsh process or pre-treatments which are not compatible with the NdFeB magnet alloy.

  • Your project must:

    • Have a grant funding request up to £25,000
    • Last up to 3 months
    • Carry out its project work in the UK
    • Intend to exploit the results from or in the UK

    Entrants to this competition must be:

    • Established businesses
    • Academic institutions
    • Start-ups
    • SMEs or
    • Individual entrepreneurs

    Applications will be assessed on:

    • Relevance to the defined challenge
    • Benefit of implementation
    • Feasibility/economic viability
    • Innovative nature
    • Ability to launch in line with expected timescales
    • Credibility of applicant organisation
    • Development potential
    • Project plan
    • Project costs

    Minimal Financial Assistance:

    Grant funding in this competition is awarded as Minimal Financial assistance (MFA). This allows public bodies to award up to £315,000 to an enterprise in a 3-year rolling financial period. If your application is successful and you are invited to apply for grant funding you will be asked to declare previous funding recieved by you. This will form part of the financial checks ahead of Innovate UK making a formal grant offer.

    Invitation to pitch

    Successful applicants will be invited to a pitch day, giving them a chance to meet the HyProMag team and pitch their project plan during a 20 minute presentation, followed by questions.

    After the pitch day, a final funding decision will be made. For unsuccessful applicants, feedback will be given in a timely manner.

  • Existing background IP associated with a potential solution will remain with Solution Provider(s). Where any new IP generation is envisaged, it will be subject to the mutual IP agreement of the Solution Provider(s) and Innovation Challenger.

    Any commercial deployment of a transferred solution or newly developed solution, through licensing, joint venture, partnership, or direct investment, will be subject to the commercial agreement between the Solution Provider(s) and Innovation Challenger.

    Where necessary, a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) may be signed to uphold confidentiality in the engagement between the Solution Provider(s) and Innovation Challenger. (This would be expected to be after company selection, it is suggested that details of IP be not disclosed, focus on the outcomes of the technology proposed).

    Innovate UK and Innovate UK Business Connect do not take any share of IP ownership or enter commercial ventures through the iX programme.

  • A selected panel of assessors will review and score your application. The panel of assessors will meet and agree a consensus score. Successful solutions will be selected by the Challenge holder. Success will be based upon total consensus scores, a portfolio approach and capacity within the challenge holders to carry out the projects.

    The successful applicant will be invited to complete their project details within Innovate UK’s Innovation Funding Service within a specified timeframe in order to progress to the Grant Offer Letter. Grants will be subject to Innovate UK’s terms and conditions which can be found here.

    Successful applicants will need to be in a position to upload the following documents to IFS once notified.

    • Project plan
    • Project costing
    • Minimal Financial Assistance (and de minimis where applicable) declaration.

    Other useful additional documents can also be attached these may include product images or short specification sheets, slide decks detailing the solution and/or company background, or solution case studies.

    • Launch of the Competition: 5th July 2024
    • Deadline for applications: 15th August 2024
    • Decision/Invitation to Pitch:  30th August 2024
    • Date of Pitch Day: Week commencing 9th September 2024
    • Outcome communicated: 13th September 2024
    • Project information into IFS: 2nd October 2024
    • Projects start: 1st January 2025
  • The application form for this challenge will require applicants to provide company information and answer 3 questions – Idea Summary, Technology Readiness and Intellectual Property – each with a limit of 300 words.

    Optionally, supporting documents can be attached to the application. We recommend that supporting documents are limited to those which are directly relevant to the application. Please note that applications with no supporting document will not receive any penalty in assessment. Supporting documents which the Assessment Panel deems to be superfluous may be disregarded. Examples of useful additional documents include product images or short specification sheets, slide decks detailing the solution and/or company background, or solution case studies.

    We recommend that you complete the application form in Google Chrome as other browsers may have compatibility issues. The application form does not need to be completed in one session and can be saved for future edits. Please ensure that you toggle “Stage Complete” for each section before submission. Note that you will no longer be able to edit your application once you have clicked “Submit Idea” at the bottom of the Summary page.

Related programme

Innovation Exchange

Innovation Exchange

Innovate UK Innovation Exchange is a cross-sector programme supporting innovation transfer by matching industry challenges to innovative companies from other sectors. It does this by putting large businesses with technical needs in contact with companies who have the right innovative solutions, for faster development of novel solutions.


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