Two materials science breakthroughs could reduce EV cost and reliance on rare materials

A couple recent materials science breakthroughs could, if they pan out, reduce the need for rare materials in electric cars, reduce their cost, etc.

Researchers see rare-earth-like magnetic properties in iron: The issue is the rare earth metals normally required in magnets for electric motors. While Iron can hold a magnetic field, they don’t normally exhibit anisotropy or the ability to hold the magnetic field permanently.  That’s what rare earth metals do, is give magnets a permanent field.

“The breakthrough here is that we see magnetic anisotropy normally associated with rare earths ions in iron,” said Paul Canfield, Ames Laboratory physicist. “This isn’t an industrial breakthrough at this point because these magnetic properties only reveal themselves at cryogenic temperatures. But, it’s a basic science breakthrough that hopefully will point the way to future technical breakthroughs.”

What they did is create a lithium-iron-nitride crystal, using a special mixing process.  The crystal exhibited extremely strong magnetic qualities, stronger than regular magnets, as well as quantum tunneling effects.  But the effects were measured at 10 degrees above absolute zero … cryogenic temperatures.

“With detailed measurements, we saw that these single iron ions are indeed behaving like a single rare-earth ion would,” Canfield continued. “And we believe this has to do with the special, fairly simple, geometry that the iron finds itself in: one iron atom positioned between two nitrogen atoms. We hope this crystal growing technique and this specific material can be a model system for further theoretical study of these rare-earth-like iron ions. As it stands, these materials have clear implications on finding rare-earth-free replacements for permanent magnets—and perhaps also may impact data storage and manipulation in quantum computer applications.”

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Flexible battery, no lithium required: This is a flexible electrochemical supercapacitor, meaning that it is similar to both batteries and supercapacitors, and has flexibility allowing it to be bent without breaking.  The chemistry is based on nickel-flouride, hence has no lithium.  It retained 76% of its original capacity after 10,000 charge/discharge cycles.

While it’s a promising breakthrough, they’ve only done tiny scale testing in laboratory conditions.  Researchers claim it can be easily scaled up to larger applications.

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.

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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