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Delight as QUB spinout Ionic Technologies exceeds employment expectations

22 May 2023


A Belfast company that received a £1.72m grant from the UK Government to develop a permanent magnet recycling plant has recorded record growth in just under a year.

Ionic Technologies, a spinout from Queen’s University, said its 2023 expansion plans have already surpassed all expectations in terms of job creation and business growth.

The company, which was acquired in 2022 by Australian multinational Ionic Rare Earths Limited, has developed a revolutionary new technique to recycle permanent magnets, by reusing the geopolitically sensitive and now strategic rare earth elements and making them available for developing new domestic supply chains.

General Manager Thomas Kelly said that the company, which launched with just 5 staff, has now increased in size to 17 people and will be announcing more appointments soon.

“The decision to use Belfast as a base is already bearing fruit, given the strength of the applicants for a wide range of high-level scientific positions within the company,” he said.

“We have been hugely impressed with the talent pool and the high-quality team we’ve already been able to build.

“We’re also delighted at the development both of our supply chain and customer base.

“The world’s supply of magnet rare earth elements is failing to keep pace with demand, whilst the importance and ubiquity of magnets in everyday life is growing.

“As the demand for these new technology applications grows, the need for secondary sourcing, otherwise known as recycling, becomes ever more pressing.

“This was highlighted last month when the European Union released its 2023 Critical Raw Materials Act which now classifies magnet rare earths as strategic raw materials, and imposes requirements to source a minimum of 15% from recycling by 2030, using technology like that which we offer.

“Furthermore, as we continue to develop the company, we are seeing just how pressing that demand is, given the quality of exchanges we’ve had, and the amount of interest on the international stage.”

Ionic Technologies has developed new techniques to recycle permanent magnets using a revolutionary process for the separation and refining of rare earth elements from mining ore concentrates and waste magnets.

The company plans to employ more staff in 2023, with further expansion planned thereafter.

Permanent magnets are critical for the energy transition and net zero carbon technologies, such as electric vehicles and offshore wind turbines, but rare earths are also critical to everyday life, being used in smartphones, speakers and 5G internet. Furthermore, significant demand is also forecast in defence applications with sovereign capability and global security becoming increasingly important to governments globally.

Mr Kelly highlighted a growing realisation across international markets of the need to offer a viable alternative solution for the processing of end-of-life magnets for use in new permanent magnets.

“Ionic Technologies is delighted that we’re at the cutting edge of a globally significant technology which will only grow in importance in the coming years,” he said.

“We’re also extremely pleased to be doing it right here in Belfast.

“We have proved that the technology works and that there is a huge global demand; now we need to show that we can scale production up and take our company to the next level.”

He added: “The addition of such a highly qualified and motivated team so quickly into our development is a testament not just to the strength of the Ionic Technologies proposition, but also the talent pool available here in Northern Ireland.”

Ionic Technologies is now accelerating the scale up of the technology, completing a new demonstration plant at its facility at the Titanic Quarter in Belfast.

In 2022, the company was awarded a grant of £1.72 million through the UK Government’s Innovate UK Automotive Transformation Fund Scale up Readiness Validation (SuRV) programme / competition.

The grant was aimed at helping the company develop a demonstration scale magnet recycling plant, a significant step towards securing the UK supply of critical rare earth metals for electric vehicle manufacture.

The company remains on track to produce approximately 10 tonnes of separated high purity magnet rare earth oxides (REOs) in the next 12 months. This will make Ionic Technologies the UK’s largest producer of domestically produced magnet REOs.