The latest European non-energy raw materials review report, identifies 20 critical raw materials and classifies them in relation to their supply risk and economic importance for Europe. Among them Rare Earth (RE) and Cobalt.

The global market for permanent magnets (PM) is projected to reach $18,800 billion by the year 2018. The number one risk to the permanent magnet industry is their dependency in rare earth elements (RE), and hence should be avoided or minimised in the search for new materials.

Virtually in every application, an increase in the magnetic energy density of the magnet, usually presented via the maximum energy product (BH)max, immediately increases the efficiency of the whole device (a typical example is the volume-to-power ratio of an electric motor). Moreover, for many applications (such as MRI), it is the high (BH)max which enables the use of permanent magnets instead of less efficient alternatives (like energy-consuming electromagnets). Energy-saving hybrid cars, emerging electric cars and wind power are expected to be among the major consumers of high-energy permanent magnets.

These magnets are also expected to play essential role in a number of proposed energy-saving technologies, such as the MagLev trains, the magnetic refrigeration and the flywheel energy storage.

All commercially available high energy permanent magnets contain rare earth elements. The RE market has become increasingly tight and is now dominated by China, which possesses and uses most of the world’s RE resources. Restrictions on the export of RE placed by China in 2010 led to a temporary rare earth crisis that resulted in drastic increase in RE price that lasted a couple of years.

Among all available permanent magnets, Nd-Fe-B magnets with some added dysprosium (Dy) are the most powerful magnets in the temperature range up to 200 oC with a high remanence and a high coercivity (μ0Hc > 2 T). The Dy-containing Nd-Fe-B magnets are far more expensive than other lower-grade rare-earth-less types of magnets, but still affordable enough to be widely used in industry: an electrical car contains about 2 kg of Nd2Fe14B (of which 8 to 12 % is Dy), while a single wind turbine devours up to 1 ton (of which 4% is Dy) of these high-quality magnets. These demands are rapidly depleting the already compromised existing rare earth resources to the limit of jeopardising the supply of existing needs, particularly dysprosium and terbium, internationally identifying them as critical raw materials (CRM).

 

The approach that will be followed in this project is a “bottom-up” approach to using computer algorithms in search for new intermetallic compounds to forecast the potential for generating permanent magnet alloys.

Our proposed research will be aimed at the development of RE-lean/free permanent magnets. Our efforts will be focused on the following route: significantly improve the properties of existing phases/structures for permanent magnet development including the tetragonal MnAl(C) and the Nd-lean NdFe(M)12Nx alloys with the tetragonal 1:12 structure.

Visit the project website: www.inapem.eu