Researchers at the Ames Laboratory have used cerium, a widely available and inexpensive rare-earth metal, to create a high-performance magnet that’s similar in performance to traditional dysprosium containing magnets that could make wind turbines and other generator and motor sets less expensive to manufacture.

Karl A. Gschneidner and fellow scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory have created a new magnetic alloy that is an alternative to traditional rare-earth permanent magnets.

The group research paper, “Cerium: An Unlikely Replacement of Dysprosium in High Performance Nd-Fe-B Permanent Magnets” has been published in Advanced Materials.

The new alloy eliminates the use of one of the scarcest and costliest rare earth elements, dysprosium, and uses cerium instead, the most abundant of the rare earth elements.

Arc Melting Magnet Material by Arjun Pathak.  Click image for the largest view.  Image Credit: Ames Lab at Iowa State.

Arc Melting Magnet Material by Arjun Pathak. Click image for the largest view. Image Credit: Ames Lab at Iowa State.

The result, an alloy made 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.

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

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 demagnetization – 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.

Gschneidner said, “This is quite exciting result; 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.

Better magnets encourage better and more efficient generators, alternators and motors as well as a host of other products. Magnet efficiency and superconductors could go very far in reducing the losses in electrical production and use reducing expense to consumers and producers.

This is very welcome news!


1 Comment so far

  1. Matt Musson on April 28, 2015 8:00 AM

    Isn’t an ‘abundant rare earth’ an oxymoron?

    Hope the prices can come down for rare earth magnets. My favorite lower grade science fair project is a gauss gun. It’s easy to make and kids will play with it for hours. It’s a science toy.

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