Rare earth materials are essential in the production of high-performance magnets and motors and their availability is crucial Although they are not as rare as their name implies, their mining and refining is messy and polluting. Phase is an important user of rare earth magnets and is aware of the critical importance of these materials.
For this reason, Phase activated two R&D projects:
Iron Nitride, rare earth free hard magnetic materials. Based on the recent discovery that some unstable crystalline form of Iron Nitrides, at microscopic levels, exhibit exceptional hard magnetic properties, Phase entrusted UniGe with the project of confirming or disproving the stability of this crystalline form, characterizing it and together developing a suitable production method.
Target: If successful, iron-nitride magnets could outperform rare earth magnets with very low material cost. This in turn could revolutionize the field of advanced motor and magnetics design.
Status: two years of trials with powder metallurgy did not yield any appreciable results. A few months ago a new method was theorized. A new set of trials is ongoing, some results have started to appear.
Rare earth magnet recycling. Rare earths have been used in advanced electric motors since the 80s. Electric motors have a very long life but eventually they too need recycling. So far, rare earth magnets proved impossible to recycle. Phase and UniGe are experimenting a process to demagnetize, dismount, pulverize the magnets in a neutral atmosphere and then reform new magnets.
Target: If successful, the need for new rare earth extraction could be significantly reduced.
Status: The process is proven; initial magnets have been sampled. Unfortunately, the residual magnet processing capacity outside of the Far East is minimal. Partnerships are being sought.