A Low Cost Continuous Process to Produce Magnet Alloys

Award Information
Agency: Department of Energy
Branch: N/A
Contract: DE-FG02-10ER85902
Agency Tracking Number: 94344
Amount: $1,000,000.00
Phase: Phase II
Program: SBIR
Awards Year: 2011
Solicitation Year: 2011
Solicitation Topic Code: 06 b
Solicitation Number: DE-FOA-0000508
Small Business Information
7960 South Kolb Road, Tucson, AZ, 85756-9237
DUNS: 147518286
HUBZone Owned: N
Woman Owned: N
Socially and Economically Disadvantaged: N
Principal Investigator
 James Withers
 (520) 574-1980
Business Contact
 Raouf Loutfy
Title: Dr.
Phone: (520) 574-1980
Email: rloutfy@mercorp.com
Research Institution
The current processes to produce Nd-Fe-B alloy powders for producing high magnetic strength permanent magnets for application in electric traction motors for use in electric vehicles requires a significant number of steps resulting in high cost as well as 96.8% supply of Nd-Fe-B which is controlled by China. To meet the cost goals for traction motors to expand the availability of electric vehicles, substantial reductions in cost to produce the Nd-Fe-B alloy powders must be achieved as well as providing a U.S. base of supply. Neodymium oxide (Nd2O3), the DOE specified starting material, is transformed to anhydrous neodymium chloride (NdCl3) by demonstrated low cost processing which is the feed along with iron chloride (FeCl2) and boron trichloride (BCl3) to an electrolytic fused salt cell that directly produces the ideal alloy Nd2Fe14B fine powder at a fraction of the state-of-the-art process cost. The Nd2Fe14B is vacuum separated from the salt that is recycled to the electrolytic cell and the Nd2Fe14B powder is sintered to form a magnet without exposure to air producing a high quality magnet at low cost. The phase I demonstrated Nd2O3 could be transformed to anhydrous NdCl3 using a carbothermic reduction/chlorination demonstrated process. The anhydrous NdCl3 was co-fed with FeCl2 and BCl3 to an electrolytic fused salt cell that electrolytically directly deposited the ideal alloy Nd2Fe14B as a very fine powder in the desirably nano size range that translates to magnets with higher energy density. The simplified flow chart that directly produces the Nd2Fe14B alloy predicts a cost significantly less than the current price of Chinese produced material. Technical feasibility has been demonstrated in Phase I. Phase II proposes to scale-up processing utilizing neodymium oxide or lower cost carbonate to produce anhydrous NdCl3 which will be co-fed with FeCl2 and BCl3 in a scaled-up electrolytic cell to define reproducibility of producing very fine/nano particle Nd2Fe14B powder that is vacuum separated from the salt which is recycled back to the electrolytic cell in a benign environmental cycle. The separated Nd2Fe14B alloy powder will be sintered into low cost magnets without exposure to the atmosphere. This project establishes a U.S. source to produce Nd2Fe14B alloy powder and high quality magnets. Commercial Applications and Other Benefits: Substantially reducing the cost and energy in an environmentally friendly process to produce low cost Nd2Fe14B alloy powder provides the material to produce high quality permanent magnets at low cost that translates to producing more electric vehicles. The greater use of electric vehicles reduces pollution, reduces the need for oil/petroleum and the attendant advantages of reduced importing of oil. A greater use of electric vehicles emanating from low cost permanent magnets is a benefit to the entire Nation. The low cost Nd2Fe14B is also applicable for magnets for wind generation of electricity as well as defense applications. This program establishes a U.S. source for Nd2Fe14B that overcomes the Chinese monopoly of 96.8% of the supply.

* Information listed above is at the time of submission. *

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