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Ames Lab scientists produce cheaper rare-earth magnet alternative

25 April 2015

Scientists at the US Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory have created a new magnetic alloy that is an alternative to traditional rare-earth permanent magnets.

Image: Shutterstock

The new alloy — a potential replacement for the high-performance permanent magnets found in automotive and renewable energy applications - eliminates the use of one of the scarcest and costliest rare earth elements, dysprosium, and instead uses cerium, the most abundant rare earth.

The result, an alloy of neodymium, iron and boron co-doped with cerium and cobalt, is a less expensive material with properties that are competitive with traditional sintered magnets containing dysprosium.

Experiments performed at Ames Laboratory by post-doctoral researcher Arjun Pathak, and Mahmud Khan (now at Miami University) demonstrated that the cerium-containing alloy’s intrinsic coercivity (the ability of a magnetic material to resist demagnetisation) far exceeds that of dysprosium-containing magnets at high temperatures. The materials are at least 20 to 40 percent cheaper than the dysprosium-containing magnets.

“This is quite exciting result," says lead scientists, Karl Gschneidner. "We found that this material works better than anything out there at temperatures above 150°C. It’s an important consideration for high-temperature applications.”

Previous attempts to use cerium in rare-earth magnets failed because it reduces the Curie temperature — the temperature above which an alloy loses its permanent magnet properties. But the research team discovered that co-doping with cobalt allowed them to substitute cerium for dysprosium without losing desired magnetic properties.

Finding a comparable substitute material is key to reducing manufacturing reliance on dysprosium; the current demand for it far out-paces current mining and recycling sources.


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