Rare earth magnets – we take them for granted, they are in just about everything. But where do they come from and why are they so important? Let’s explore the importance of these magnets and what the future holds.
What are Rare Earth Magnets?
Rare earth magnets are a set of strong permanent magnets made from alloys of particular rare earth elements (REEs). Like all REE’s, the ones that make up permanent magnets are quite abundant in the earth’s crust. They are named as ‘rare-earth’ magnets due to their magnetic properties and lack of being found in economical quantities. The properties of Rare Earth Elements make the magnets stronger and more durable than the standard magnets (also called non-rare earth magnets). It takes several 100 pounds of raw materials to harvest one pound of usable rare earth minerals, which is why they are so rare, but not rare in abundance.
There are two types of rare-earth magnets – Neodymium (Nd-Fe-B) and Samarium Cobalt (SmCo). Both of these magnets produces significantly stronger magnetic fields than other types of non-rare earth magnets. These fields are how they consider which is an appropriate fit for different applications. Neodymium is the strongest-known magnets that can store about 18x more magnetic energy than an iron magnet. It is the most frequently used permanent magnet due to its high performance levels.
Properties of Rare Earth Magnets (also called Permanent Magnets)
1. Durability: The standard magnet loses about 5% of its strength per 100years while permanent magnets will lose less than 1%.
2. Heat Resistant: Permanent Magnets can withstand higher operating temperatures (>500’F) without losing any of their magnetic fields.
3. Strength: Permanent magnets produces 1.5 tesla magnetic strength which is twice the amount of what standard magnet produces (0.5 tesla).
4. Less expensive: Since early 90s, the magnets have become comparatively less expensive and hence the low cost has lead to many innovations such as magnetic construction toys.
Permanent magnets are most commonly used in audio equipment such as loudspeakers and headphones, all types of motors and servo motors (essentially a motor that is used for precise control) and medical equipment such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). They are also used in electronics such as computer hard disc drives and wind turbine generators. They are considered ideal to build missile guidance systems for air force and jet turbines for NASA. In addition, REEs may have many future applications in green technology due to their high grade magnetic properties and strength.
Why are Rare Earth Magnets important?
Rare Earth Magnets form an integral part of a global rare earth supply chain. China is the world’s top producer of these accounting to 87% of global production in 2018 according to Ping An Securities. The growing dependence on China for REEs can further raise economic and national security risks for the rest of the world.
The REE market has been through a lot of research and development in the recent years. Rare earth magnets are now being used in many high-tech systems that helps to improve the efficiency and performance of many high-tech systems. These are then further used in hybrid vehicles. These magnets have further enabled designing compacta nd efficient systems in a form that was never imagined. The market is still continuing to witness an upward trend in the demand of the magnets with various new technologies and advancements.
The high magnetic energy produced by rare earth magnets makes them ideal for small or large scale applications. Most of the rare earth magnets are deeply hidden which makes them hard to be noticeable. Small applications of these magnets helps in creating higher output. For example, silent ring feature uses a tiny magnet that takes an very small space in phone but creates enough power to be heard or felt. On the contrary, large applications of these magnets hold the ability to minimize the size and weight of large devices or equipment. For example, motors made with rare earth magnets tends to be 50% smaller and lighter than the electric motors.
Switching from Conventional Vehicles to Electric or Hybrid Vehicles
All of these are reasons behind the companies choosing to transition from designing conventional vehicles to electric or hybrid vehicles. In March, the department of energy announced $30 million for the research of the REEs. This lead markets towards a major shift that lead companies to start targeting the rare earth market and hence creating the demand for the REEs. The automakers aiming for 50% electric vehicle sales by 2030 opens the door for potential investing opportunity.
If you’re interested in investing in REE’s, you can have a look at Commerce Resources Corp. (TSXV:CCE | FSE:D7H0 | OTC:CMRZF): a public company focused on the development of the Ashram Rare Earth deposit and Eagle Bay Resources : a private company focused on exploring for Rare Earth Elements in BC.