There are things that we take so much for granted most of us hardly think of their existence if think about them at all. The permanent magnet market is expected to grow to $18 billion by 2018 according to buymagnets.com. Ignoring the market figure, looking strictly at market figures, what is a global market of $18 billion, nothing but child’s play to a statisticians mind when they deal in markets of trillions of dollars, yet the trillion dollar markets would most likely not be as huge, or even exist without the $18 billion market for permanent magnets. Knowledge economics explains why all knowledge is essentially of the same value in terms of units of knowledge, knowl, using the logic of mathematics, monetary value is a different issue affected by market demand.
Almost every single current electronic product, cars, windmill turbines uses permanent magnets. The strongest permanent magnets come from alloys containing rare earths, and the strongest of these being neodymium magnets, an alloy of neodymium, iron, and boron. Neodymium magnets where developed by General Motors because of the high cost of the previous popular permanent magnets made from an alloy of samarium and cobalt, necessity being the mother of invention.
China is the largest producer of rare earth metals, not as rare as the name suggests. There is some concern that the supply chain relying on Chinese production might not always have a steady supply due to political factors, fears that the Chinese government wants to control the market for political and strategic reasons, thus controlling the future. This fear has led to research into alternatives in the West.
Through grants and other support from the US government, researchers Daniel Brown, Ke Han, and Theo Siegrist of Florida State University through a paper entitled “Permanent magnetic properties in bulk Mn1-xGax that begin to rival commercial rare – earth magnets” have announced new possibilities. The title of the paper suggests that their research has found shows that they use an alloy of manganese and gallium to produce magnets with same strength as rare earths magnets. The trio says in their press release that “we have produced samples that exhibit coercivity up to 18.8 kOe, a value equivalent to those of rare earth containing permanent magnets now in use.” Coercivity being the amount of reverse magnetic force needed to drive magnetic properties to zero. kOe standing for kilo Oersteds, oersteds being unit for magnetic fields.
This is good news for this pioneering research providing world hope for diversified materials for the production of commercial permanent magnets. Discoveries always have unsuspecting twists and change in thinking patterns. Though seemingly an economic necessity to find new materials for reliable permanent magnets, the research will lead other scientists to think about other factors such as, if we do not need rare earths for permanent magnets, are we not looking in the wrong place for superconductivity, the astounding results from the research being carried out by Brown, Han, and Siegrist would suggest maybe alloys well considered without rare metals could produce superconductivity in surprising ways as we have been looking in the wrong place.
By now humans should have realized it is pointless trying to blackmail the world over materials, humans will just look for substitutes. Humans should just trade without feeling the need to blackmail each other to control the future, future must belong to all as human beings. This research in time will prove to be commercially viable meaning a lot of mining exploration for rare metals outside China, in places like Greenland will not be necessary, bad for those miners, but good for the environment.
Are the efforts of the trio worthy of a Nobel prize, that is up to the Nobel prize committee, their efforts though are worthy of greater encouragement and notice from the public at large, every modern device has a permanent magnet made from rare earths, they are changing the future.