From Fine Black Powder to Electric Motor:
VCU Receives Federal Contract to Design and Develop Permanent Magnets
RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia
Commonwealth University has received a contract totalling $2.9 million from the
U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, ARPA-E, to
develop and design a new class of permanent magnets to be used in
energy-efficient electric car motors or generators.
The VCU-led research is one of 14 projects being funded through ARPA-E’s Rare
Earth Alternatives in Critical Technologies program, or REACT, which awarded a
total of $31.6 million in funding to academic institutions across the country
for similar projects last month.
The REACT program is focused on the development of alternatives to rare earth
elements, which are minerals that occur naturally in the environment, for use in
technologies such as electric motor and generator applications. This year, the
REACT program received 89 concept papers and 14 were selected for funding. Read
ARPA-E’s announcement here.
With a push for more energy-efficient and green-powered technologies, materials
scientists are working to advance the field of magnets by creating permanent
magnets that can perform equivalent to the best commercial magnets, and are less
expensive than what is available on the market – without relying on rare earth
elements. Rare earth elements are difficult and costly to process and refine the
The goal of the three-year project at VCU is to use the magnetic carbide-based
composite – which looks like a fine black powder – to develop a magnet for use
in a prototype electric motor. The transition metal carbide nanomagnets, which
require no rare earth elements, was developed by Everett Carpenter Ph.D.,
associate professor of inorganic and materials chemistry and affiliate professor
of chemical and life science engineering, and his team at VCU.
“Recent market trends have made the production and procurement of rare earth
permanent magnets more challenging and less cost efficient - creating a secure
supply of these materials here in the U.S. is critical,” said Carpenter.
“This material represents a major paradigm shift. Traditionally, minerals such
as iron, nickel, cobalt are mined from foundries, melted together, and
fabricated just like you would steel. Our process is a chemical process that’s
nanobased. The program, if successful, would result in the first commercially
viable rare-earth free magnet in nearly 50 years,” he said.
According to Carpenter, the cost to produce this new magnetic material could be
significantly reduced due to a simplified synthesis technique. For example, he
said, the cost of making a rare earth magnet such as Samarium cobalt is
approximately $70 per pound, but using the chemical process to create this new
magnet could significantly lower production costs to $1.50 per pound.
The REACT program is focused on electric motor and generator applications, but
the materials can be used in a host of other areas such as defense and
telecommunications, said Carpenter.
Carpenter’s team has been working closely with Shiv Khanna, Ph.D., professor of
physics, and colleagues in the VCU Department of Physics.
The VCU team, consisting of Carpenter and Khanna, is collaborating with research
teams from Northeastern University, the University of California-San Diego,
Brookhaven National Laboratory, Moog Components Inc., Arnold Magnetics
Technologies and Bayer Technology Services – each will play a specific role in
the development, design, optimization and manufacturing process of this new
About VCU and the VCU Medical Center: Virginia Commonwealth University is a
major, urban public research university with national and international rankings
in sponsored research. Located on two downtown campuses in Richmond, VCU enrolls
more than 31,000 students in 211 certificate and degree programs in the arts,
sciences and humanities. Sixty-nine of the programs are unique in Virginia, many
of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. MCV
Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University
compose the VCU Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading academic medical
centers. For more, see www.vcu.edu.
Source: Virginia Commonwealth University
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