Research team awarded $4.4 million to develop next generation high power magnets

Among 37 projects awarded, on Oct 26, 2009, $151 million in Department of Energy grants is one aimed to develop new high energy magnet technology.  As noted in earlier reporting advanced technology vehicles rely on electric motors using powerful rare earth magnets (see Oil scarcity leads us to electric cars which leads us to Neodymium scarcity).  High energy permanent magnets are critical components in the new energy economy due to their widespread use in advanced motors for hybrids and electric vehicles and in advanced wind turbine generators.  The currently dominant Nd-Fe-B magnets use materials that are not domestically available and are subject to critical supply disruptions.  The research team means to develop high power permanent magnets made from other materials, and return the U.S. to global leadership in advanced magnetic materials, that may facilitate the widespread deployment of low cost hybrid and electric vehicles and wind power using domestically available materials and dramatically decrease U.S. oil imports and greenhouse gas emissions.

Those are heady goals indeed.

George Hadjipanayis, the Richard B. Murray Professor of Physics and chairperson of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Delaware, is the principal investigator on the project. He will coordinate a team of chemists, material scientists, physicists, and engineers from the University of Delaware, University of Nebraska, Northeastern University, and Virginia Commonwealth University; the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory at Iowa State University, in Ames, Iowa; and the Electron Energy Corporation in Landisville, Pa.  Judging from his published papers, Dr. Hadjipanayis has been researching magnets since the early 1990’s and has especially focused on nanomaterials for magnets.

“This is the first time that such a large concerted effort will be undertaken in the U.S. on the development of high-energy magnets that involves the best expertise available in our country on this type of materials,” Hadjipanayis said.  He went on to say “We hope our efforts will provide the fundamental innovations and breakthroughs which could have a major impact in re-establishing the United States as a leader in the science, technology, and commercialization of this very important class of materials.”

They aim to conduct a three year research project which will explore three routes of technology development.  The first route will be to discover new rare earth-transition metal-element materials, that have previously been difficult to research.  The second route will be to develop materials that are free of rare earth metals.  The third route will be to use the bottom-up approach to develop high-energy nanocomposite materials.  Clearly this is basic scientific research but with a clearly defined economic goal.

The development team includes the company, Electron Energy.  They specialize in design and manufacture of high-performance rare earth magnets and magnet assemblies.  In 2007 Dr. Hadjipanayis was named to their Board of Directors.  Their web site lists a range of military research contracts they have conducted.  In August 2009 Peter Dent, of Electron Energy, published an article “HIGH PERFORMANCE MAGNET MATERIALS: RISKY SUPPLY CHAIN” which echoed some of the issues in my earlier reporting on rare earth magnets.  The article is available through Electron Energy’s blog and details the history of Chinese coming to dominate the global market for rare earth high energy magnets.  These magnets play a critical role in many technological gadgetry, some of which are used by U.S. military in addition to uses in wind turbines or advanced technology vehicles.   The technology behind rare earth high energy magnets was developed by U.S. scientists some of whom worked for the U.S. government but today it is not the U.S. which dominates this market, it is China.

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About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.
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