The Slovenia Times

Slovenian scientists in breakthrough on rare earth technology


The breakthrough enables a 16-fold reduction in the use of rare earth elements in the production of high-energy magnets. This greatly reduces the costs of such magnets, which are essential components in electric vehicles and turbines.

The breakthrough was made as part of the EU-funded Romeo project, in which IJS scientists spent two years researching ways to reduce dependence on what are often referred to as "technology metals".

The IJS and seven other scientific institutions as well as a host of commercial partners concluded the project by producing magnets with minimal use of rare earth minerals.

A total of 550 such magnets were then installed in electric motors and turbines.

The project was implemented with the help of commercial partners Siemens and Valeo as well as Slovenian automotive parts maker Kolektor, car maker Daimler and magnet producer Vacuumschmelze.

It was co-funded with around EUR 4m in EU money with the main goal of responding to the crisis on the market of rare earth materials caused by Chinese restrictions on exports, which prompted a massive spike in prices in 2009.

"The important thing is that we're no longer dependent on the Chinese or that this dependence is minimal," said project leader Spomenka Kobe of the IJS Department for Nano Materials at the conclusion of the project.

While relatively abundant in the earth, rare earth elements are costly to extract due to their relatively low concentrations per volume of earth extracted, making production viable only at extremely large scales.

Using just one-sixteenth of the current amount of this raw material in high-energy magnets will therefore represent an important leap in price efficiency of electric motors.

The IJS scientists went a step further, enabling production of a high-energy magnet without any rare earth elements, but Kobe said that implementing this technology would currently still be too expensive.


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