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New research challenges Chinese dominance in magnet industry

Jens  Christiansen

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New research challenges Chinese dominance in magnet industry

Across the world, the livelihoods of magnet producers are threatened by China, which dominates the market for rare earths and lets prices of these raw materials skyrocket. However, a four-year Danish research project and massive Greenlandic deposits of rare earths are to put an end to that situation.

In recent years, prices of sought-after rare earths, such as neodymium and dysprosium, have fluctuated by more than 900%.  Now, a group of Danish industrial players and universities, headed by DTI, will break the Chinese monopoly in the market for rare earths by restoring the entire value chain in Europe from raw materials to production and reuse of so-called high-performance permanent magnets. 

-It is a problem to the international community that for much too long China has been controlling deliveries and prices of the rare earths needed to manufacture magnets for use in transport, health, energy and communication. We will lay the foundation for a new future where free market forces will prevail for the benefit of magnet producers, says Jens Christiansen, Head of Section, DTI, and adds: We will develop bigger and stronger magnets to give the Danish business sector in particular a competitive edge. One way of achieving this is to conduct preliminary studies of finds of rare earths at the southern point of Greenland in Kringlerne, where production of rare earth metals is expected to commence in 2015, thereby providing an alternative to the Chinese production. New innovative solutions for the magnet industry in sight Jens Christiansen and R&D Manager Peter Kjeldsteen of Danish magnet producer Sintex in Hobro took the initiative to the new research project.

- We will implement sustainable solutions in our magnet production according to the cradle-to-cradle concept and by establishing solutions for collection and reuse of magnets and particularly their content of rare earths, says Peter Kjeldsteen and continues: Finally, we intend to examine if our magnets can be improved by new innovative production solutions. It is interesting to learn how we can develop magnets with improved temperature properties, higher magnetisation and greater strength in the future. It looks so promising that we have now gathered a group of leading international players who contribute research and innovation in relation to materials, processes, life-cycle analysis and technical design at the Technical University of Denmark, the University of Southern Denmark and the Danish Technological Institute.

- The project will make it easier for the cleantech and hightech industries in Denmark and Europe to gain access to the rare earths that are also necessary raw materials in the manufacture of high-technology products such as mobile phones, computers, TVs and microphones, adds Jens Christiansen.

DTI is assisting Tanbreez Mining Greenland in improving utilization of the minerals extracted from the Greenlandic deposits by means of chemical process technology. Moreover, DTI is developing the magnetic alloys for magnetic couplers and ball bearings, etc. in industrial products. DTI does so by means of new state-of-the-art design processes based on newly developed and complex geometrical shapes geared for mass production. DTI is also to test the magnetic properties of the alloys, including analyses of durability and service life.