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World’s most powerful permanent magnet wins QEPrize 2022

01 February 2022

The 2022 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering (QEPrize) is awarded to Japan’s Dr Masato Sagawa for his work on the discovery, development and global commercialisation of the sintered Neodymium Iron Boron permanent magnet.

(Dr Masato Sagawa)
(Dr Masato Sagawa)

This is the world’s most powerful permanent magnet which has been transformational in its contribution towards enabling cleaner, energy saving technologies.

Dr Sagawa was announced as the winner of the 2022 QEPrize – awarded annually to celebrate the critical role that engineering plays in global society – by Lord Browne of Madingley, Chairman of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation. 

Dr Sagawa pioneered the development of a sintered rare-earth permanent magnet, the sintered neodymium-iron-boron (Nd-Fe-B) magnet. His breakthrough innovation was the creation of a new compound formed by replacing scarce and expensive cobalt and samarium with more abundant and cheaper iron and neodymium, and at the same time introducing boron to improve the magnetic properties – the first step in delivering high performance to a mass market. 

Dr Sagawa then led the research and development in the 1980s and early 1990s to successfully overcome the issues of sudden reduction of magnetic coercivity at high temperature, most notably by adding dysprosium (Dy) to improve heat resistance. This resulted in the development of high-volume manufacturing techniques which successfully commercialised his innovation. For even wider applications, he continued to develop novel techniques for reducing the amount of dysprosium or even eliminating its use to help preserve natural resources. 

The result was a new magnet for the mass market that almost doubled the performance of the previous best and successfully turned Nd-Fe-B magnets into a viable industrial material with wide applications. The new magnet has a significant advantage in high-efficiency and high-torque density applications, such as motors and generators for electric vehicles and wind power generation, and in more general applications where small powerful magnets are required, including robots, automation systems and domestic appliances.

Not only is the Nd-Fe-B market predicted to be worth over $19.3 billion by 2026, but this type of permanent magnet is also essential to the value chain of 8.5 million electric vehicles and hybrid electric vehicles in use globally, demonstrating a prolific impact on the entire economy. 

“Receiving the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering is a special moment for me, as this prestigious prize encapsulates what engineering is all about. The purpose of engineering is to benefit humankind, and this award inspires engineers to keep working towards their goals. Engineering is essential to solving today’s most pressing issues, and this includes tackling climate change. While neodymium magnets have a wide range of applications, one of the most important is its use for climate economy products, such as electric vehicles and wind turbines. I am therefore honoured to be part of the engineering profession’s contribution towards the fight against climate change, and equally as honoured to receive this unique prize,” said Dr Masato Sagawa. 

“This innovation is inside almost every electric vehicle, and its application ranges from the smartphone in your pocket to offshore wind turbines providing clean energy – a material that is supporting our way of life today and our way of life in the future. That's the essence of engineering; producing and delivering for humanity again and again. Dr Masato Sagawa's permanent magnet is the embodiment of that very essence,” said Lord Browne of Madingley, Chairman, Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation.

“The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering is a true celebration of the achievements of engineering worldwide, and how they benefit the planet. It is a fantastic vehicle for engaging people of all ages to demonstrate how engineering impacts our daily life. This year’s prize is awarded to Dr Sagawa and his innovation of sintered neodymium magnets – an innovation which has had such an impact both on the way we live now, and how we will live in the future, especially as we look towards a greener one,” said Professor Dame Lynn Gladden, Chair of the QEPrize Judging Panel.

Dr Sagawa will be formally honoured at the QEPrize presentation ceremony later this year. He will receive £500,000 and a unique trophy, designed by the 2022 Create the Trophy winner Anshika Agarwal, aged 17 from India.

Marking a significant milestone in the evolution of the QEPrize, Dr Sagawa becomes the first laureate since it was announced that the Prize will be awarded annually, rather than bi-annually. Reflecting the increasing pace of engineering innovation, this step change will offer further opportunities to recognise excellence across the whole field of engineering. 

To find out more about this year's winning innovation, visit www.qeprize.org/winners


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