Rare earth metals are center stage in the “Green Revolution” because they provide high-performance magnets used in renewable infrastructure such as wind turbines, high-tech equipment and automobile power.
Rare earths are scattered throughout the Earth’s crust in relatively low concentrations, so mining can be complicated and pose an environmental hazard. Because when mining rare earth mines, it is necessary to take a large amount of material to be able to extract a small amount of rare earth.
Therefore, there is a growing interest in alternatives.
according to science page IFL ScienceProfessor Lindsay Greer in the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy at the University of Cambridge (UK) and his team found the answer when studying tetratenite, an iron-nickel alloy with many of the magnetic properties present in the rare earth metals.
Tetrathenite is found again in meteorites that fall from space. It is characterized by a nuclear structure that has formed over millions of years as the meteorite cooled.
In the 1960s, scientists were able to create artificial tetratenite by blasting an iron-nickel alloy with neutrons, but the technique was complex and expensive, making it unsuitable for mass production.
A breakthrough came when scientists at the University of Cambridge, led by Professor Greer, found an extremely simple way to mass-produce tetratenite.
They studied iron-nickel alloys and found that phosphorus – an element also found in meteorites – helps the iron and nickel atoms move faster. This allows atoms to form into complex, ordered clusters without having to wait millions of years, like in meteorites.
According to the team, the right combination of iron, nickel and phosphorus fueled the formation of tetratenite.
“The surprising thing is that there is no special treatment, we just melt this alloy, pour it into a mold and we get tetratenite,” Ms Greer said.
The question remains, can this process be used to produce tetratenite with the required magnetic properties to be used as a substitute for the rare earths?