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Ensuring the future affordability of wind turbines, computers and electric cars

June 01, 2016

Technologies from wind turbines to electric vehicles rely on critical materials called rare-earth elements. These elements, though often abundant, can be difficult and increasingly costly to come by. Now, scientists looking for alternatives have reported in ACS' journal Chemistry of Materials a new way to make nanoparticles that could replace some rare-earth materials and help ensure the continued supply of products people have come to depend on.

Rare-earth elements have unique characteristics that make them very useful. For example, the world's strongest magnets are made with neodymium. A little too powerful for your refrigerator, these magnets are incorporated into computer disk drives, power windows and wind turbines. But rare earths are challenging to mine and process, and prices can rise quickly in a short period of time. Given the increasing demand for rare earths, Alberto López-Ortega, Claudio Sangregorio and colleagues set out to find substitutes for use in strong magnets.

The researchers used a mixed iron-cobalt oleate complex in a one-step synthetic approach to produce magnetic core-shell nanoparticles. The resulting materials showed strong magnetic properties and energy-storing capabilities. Their approach could signal an efficient new strategy toward replacing rare earths in permanent magnets and keeping costs stable, the researchers say.
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The authors acknowledge funding from the European Commission and FWO Flanders.

The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With nearly 157,000 members, ACS is the world's largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

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