Ames Laboratory Will Share in over $4.5 Million in Rare-Earth Alternatives Research Grants

Projects aimed at replacing rare-earth materials in magnets for wind turbines and electric vehicles

Contacts:                                                                                    For Release: Nov. 9, 2011

Bill McCallum, Ames Laboratory, 515-294-4736

Matthew Kramer, Ames Laboratory, 515-294-0276

Steve Karsjen, Public Affairs, 515-294-5643

Ames, IA – The U.S. Department of Energy will fund two additional cutting-edge research projects at the Ames Laboratory through its Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy's (ARPA-E) Rare Earth Alternatives in Critical Technologies (REACT) program.

The first of the two projects is for advanced research to develop a new class of high-strength permanent magnets using the rare-earth element cerium. Cerium is four times more abundant than neodymium, which is the critical element used in today’s permanent magnets. The research will look at combining other metallic elements with cerium to create a new powerful magnet with high-temperature stability for electric vehicle motors. Partners in the project are General Motors, NovaTorque and Molycorp Minerals.     

The three-year $2.2 million research project will be led at the Ames Laboratory by senior metallurgist Bill McCallum, who says General Motors and NovaTorque will provide the evaluation of the material for traction motors in vehicles while Molycorp will provide the important materials supply chain and development path for commercialization of these materials. Molycorp Minerals is the only U.S. producer of rare-earth materials.   

“We are excited to be working with these worldwide leaders in their fields on this project,” said McCallum. “We have assembled a ‘dream team’”

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Ames Laboratory scientist Bill McCallum will lead research
to develop high-strength permanent magnets using the
rare-earth element cerium.  Cerium is four times more
abundant than neodymium, which is the critical element
used in today’s permanent magnets.

"If successful in this high-risk, high-reward research project, the Ames led team will blaze a transformational new direction in high-strength magnets, enabling magnet manufacturing from Cerium, a material much more available in the U.S. than today's state-of-the- art approaches" said Mark Johnson, ARPA-E Program Director for REACT.

Rare earths are a set of 17 elements that lend special properties when combined with other elements.  Rare earths are of high interest today because they are key components of nearly every modern-day electronic device, from televisions to cell phones and computers to automobiles. They’re also key elements in magnets used in wind turbines.

In the second project, Ames Laboratory scientists will team with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory on research to reduce dependence on critical materials like rare earths in wind turbines and electric vehicles by developing a new material based on manganese as a rare-earth free alternative to rare-earth permanent magnets. These manganese composite magnets hold the potential to double the magnetic strength relative to current magnets while using raw materials that are inexpensive and abundant.

Members of this research team will speed up the typical process of developing new alloys by using computers to guide materials selection. The computer-based work will aid experimental efforts to winnow a much larger number of potential compositions than can usually be evaluated in such a short time. If this over-the-horizon advanced research effort is successful, the manganese composite magnets could reduce U.S. dependence on expensive rare-earth material imports and reduce the cost and improve the efficiency of green-energy applications, such as wind turbines and electric vehicles.

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Ames Laboratory will begin work on an ARPA-E funded project to develop new
types of permanent (rare-earth-free) magnet based on bismuth-manganese. 
The research team will use computer simulation to guide the design of a better magnetic alloy. We see in the figure the various scales of magnetic effects and defects that need to be addressed theoretically for guiding the experimental search.

Scientist Matthew Kramer will lead the three-year Ames Laboratory portion of the $2.3 million research project.

“The Ames Laboratory initiative will focus on what improvements can be made to the alloys’ composition that will provide the biggest boost to the magnetic properties, which is critical to the success of this project because there are just too many combinations to try using conventional Edisonian methods,” said Kramer. 

Other partners include Electron Energy Corp, United Technologies Research Center, the University of Maryland and the University of Texas at Arlington. The Ames Laboratory portion of the overall project will be approximately $500,000.

In 2011, DOE has awarded $156 million to ARPA-E for 60 different high-risk / high reward research project related to renewable power, energy efficiency, and national energy security. The projects focus on acceleration of innovations in clean technology, while increasing U.S. competitiveness in areas such as rare-earth alternatives and breakthroughs in biofuels, thermal storage, electric grid control and solar power electronics. Projects selected are in 25 states. For a complete list of projects visit: arpa-e.energy.gov.

“Through these awards, the Ames Laboratory has once again demonstrated its ability to bring cutting-edge research expertise to bear on issues of national importance,” said Ames Laboratory Director Alex King.

The Ames Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science national laboratory operated by Iowa State University. The Ames Laboratory creates innovative materials, technologies and energy solutions. We use our expertise, unique capabilities and interdisciplinary collaborations to solve global problems.