Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute (CMI), operated by Ames Laboratory, Iowa, USA, report that they have used metal Additive Manufacturing to accelerate their search for a permanent magnet material, which could offer a cheaper alternative to more expensive rare-earth neodymium iron boron (NdFeB) magnets for some applications.
The magnetic alloy is composed of cerium – a less expensive and more plentiful rare earth – cobalt, iron and copper. The researchers produced a range of alloy compositions, which were then used to produce additively manufactured samples on a laser powder bed AM system.
Ryan Ott, one of the CMI’s researchers, stated, “This was a known magnet material, but we wanted to revisit it to see if we could find exceptional magnetic properties. With four elements, there is a vast space of compositions to hunt around in. Using 3D printing greatly accelerates the search process.”
While it would have taken multiple weeks to produce these samples using conventional production techniques, the research team reported that using AM enabled the production of a range of magnetic samples in just two hours. The samples with the most promising properties were then identified and a second set of samples produced by conventional casting methods and compared to the originals, confirming the findings of the AM samples.
“It is very challenging to use laser printing to identify potential permanent magnet phases for bulk materials because of the need to develop the necessary microstructure,” added Ikenna Nlebedim, another CMI researcher. “But this research shows that Additive Manufacturing can be used as an effective tool for rapidly and economically identifying promising permanent magnet alloys.”
The Critical Materials Institute is a Department of Energy Innovation Hub and is supported by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, which supports early-stage research to advance innovation in US manufacturing and promote American economic growth and energy security. CMI seeks ways to eliminate and reduce reliance on rare-earth metals and other materials critical to the success of clean energy technologies.