The Critical Materials Institute, a U.S. Department of Energy Innovation Hub, has fabricated magnets made entirely of domestically sourced and refined rare-earth metals.
The small gray magnet samples are not particularly remarkable to look at. They are typical by the standard of NdFeB magnets. The process used to make them is based on the techniques used elsewhere, albeit with some significant advances in a couple of crucial steps. But in the global rare-earth metals market, the provenance is extraordinary– U.S.-mined ores, domestically processed, and domestically manufactured into magnets.
And that's important, because rare-earth magnets are used in a wide and ever-increasing number of modern technologies, and the ability to produce them domestically could have broad positive impact on national economy and security.
"This was a stretch goal of the Critical Materials Institute, to demonstrate that rare-earth magnets could be produced from mine to manufacturer, here in the United States." said CMI scientist Ikenna Nlebedim. "Rare earths are the gold standard of this generation, because they are a part of so many of our existing and developing technologies. Any future discovery that requires them can create the possibility of increased demand and supply shortages."
CMI member institution Idaho National Laboratory sourced the raw materials and refined the oxides; CMI Industry member Infinium produced the metal ingots from those oxides, which in turn were processed into magnets at CMI's home research institution at Ames Laboratory. This ability, paired with CMI's on-going research work in rare-earth metals recycling, could provide manufacturers alternatives to imported critical materials.
"We were asked if it was still possible to make these magnets entirely within the U.S., now that magnet manufacturing has very largely moved overseas," said CMI Director Alex King. "This proves that we can apply advanced tools and technologies developed in the U.S. to get the job done – do it quickly, and do it rather more efficiently than it is being done elsewhere."
The research team consisted of Critical Materials Institute researchers Ikenna Nlebedim from Ames Laboratory, Scott Herbst from Idaho National Laboratory, and Matt Earlham from Infinium.
The Critical Materials Institute is a Department of Energy Innovation Hub led by the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory and supported by DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy's Advanced Manufacturing Office. CMI seeks ways to eliminate and reduce reliance on rare-earth metals and other materials critical to the success of clean energy technologies.
Ames Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science national laboratory operated by Iowa State University. Ames Laboratory creates innovative materials, technologies and energy solutions. We use our expertise, unique capabilities and interdisciplinary collaborations to solve global problems.
Ames Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.