AI for the win!

The last decade has seen many initiatives toward clean, green, and low-carbon energy, as well as a global shift toward electric vehicles and automation. Many of these initiatives were enabled rare earth magnets, which is why rare earth magnets are heavily used now and will continue to be used in the future.
When my dad retired as a chemical engineer for Martin-Marietta at the age of 62, he started a one-man company based on a patent he was awarded. It was a device that could detect valve function in a closed pipe, and it involved the use of a rare earth permanent magnet. I don’t recall how it worked. I do remember those magnets lying around in the basement, and how powerful they were!

The rare earth materials used to create the most powerful magnets and most efficient, power-dense motors – materials like neodymium and dysprosium – require damaging mining and expensive, energy-intensive processing. So it is of great interest that a company has come up with a permanent magnet without rare earth materials:

“Company Materials Nexus, together with researchers at the Henry Royce Institute and the University of Sheffield, have developed MagNex. This is a permanent magnet that is free of rare earth elements. The MagNex is reported to have been produced with materials that cost one-fifth of regular permanent magnets. The new magnet also saw a reduction of 70 percent in carbon emissions (in terms of kilograms of CO2 per kilogram of material) compared to rare-Earth permanent magnets.”

But that’s not all:

“The combination of Materials Nexus’s approach of using AI [artificial intelligence] for materials discovery and the world-class facilities we have for manufacture of advanced alloys in the Henry Royce Institute here at Sheffield has allowed a novel magnetic material to be developed with breathtaking speed. This achievement showcases the bright future of materials and manufacturing. The next generation of materials, unlocked through the power of AI, is highly promising for research, industry, and our planet.”
“The AI system identifies and analyzes the composition of over 100 million potential alloys that would have the right properties to be a permanent magnet, be free of rare-earth elements, and meet the requirements of affordability and sustainability. The potential of this approach for the creation of new materials is enormous.”

One note of caution: I’ve poked around a bit and couldn’t discover how these new magnets compare with rare earth permanent magnets. That makes me think they’re not yet ready to replace rare earth magnets; the novelty here is in the use of AI to speed the design process. If an AB reader can find a head-to-head comparison, post a link in the comments.

AI designs novel permanent magnet materials