Researchers at the University of Cambridge, working with colleagues in Austria, say that tetrataenite, a “cosmic magnet” that develops naturally in meteorites over millions of years, might potentially be utilized in magnets instead of rare earth minerals.
In a research study, they proposed utilizing phosphorus to make tetrataenite artificially and on a large scale without any specific treatment or costly processes.
According to the researchers, phosphorus causes the iron and nickel atoms to migrate more quickly, allowing them to create the required ordered stacking without having to wait millions of years.
They were able to increase tetrataenite production by 11 to 15 orders of magnitude by combining the proper amounts of iron, nickel, and phosphorus. This meant that the material could develop in a few seconds in a simple casting.
The true significance of this revelation is that rare earth minerals are key in the production of permanent magnets, which are an essential component of the electric motors on which the transition to an emissions-free economy hinges.
The sticking point is that China controls over 80% of the global market for rare earth elements, owing to its proclivity for dominating so many production processes for electric vehicles, solar panels, and other crucial technologies required to solve global warming.
We are well aware of the dangers of permitting Saudi and Russian rulers to control our access to fossil fuels. That experience implies that allowing China to be the gatekeeper is a bad idea.
As a result, there has been a desperate hunt for alternative materials that do not require rare earths. Tetrataenite, an iron-nickel alloy with an ordered atomic structure, is one of the most promising permanent magnet alternatives. Although the discovery seems intriguing, additional research is required to determine whether it is suited for high performance magnets. To ascertain this, the team hopes to work with key magnet makers.
Reference- Journal Advanced Science, Innovation News Network, Interesting Engineering, Popular Mechanics