Materials World

Important news on steel, aluminum, and rare earths this week

It’s acceptable to live in a material world if you’re in certain industries that revolve around the availability, cost, and research of these resources. Three headlines this week could prove crucial for the manufacturing sector, fabrication industries, and electric motors in general, as they concern the state of steel, aluminum, and rare earths markets.

Commerce Dept. suggests more tariffs—on steel and aluminum. In continuation of what appears to be escalating efforts to compete with imported Chinese production, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross recommended new tariffs be imposed on steel and aluminum February 16.

“China is by far the largest producer and exporter of steel, and the largest source of excess steel capacity,” the Commerce Department said in a news release. “Their excess capacity alone exceeds the total U.S. steel-making capacity.” The measures are meant to increase U.S. production to 80 percent of capacity in both industries, CBS News reported. U.S. steel plants are running at 73 percent of capacity and aluminum plants at 48 percent.

President Trump has until April 11 to make a decision on aluminum and until April 19 to decide on steel. if the president’s recent decisions on tariffs are any indication, these are likely to be approved, at least to some degree:

  • Impose tariffs of 24 percent on all steel and 7.7 percent on aluminum imports from all countries.
  • Impose tariffs of 53 percent on steel imports from 12 countries, including Brazil, China and Russia, and tariffs of 23.6 percent on aluminum imports from China, Hong Kong, Russia, Venezuela and Vietnam. Under this option, the United States would also impose a quota limiting all other countries to the aluminum and steel they exported to the United States last year.
  • Impose a quota on steel and aluminum imports from everywhere, limiting each country 63 percent of the steel and 86.7 percent of the aluminum they shipped to the U.S. last year.

Germans finding better steel for elmos? Researchers at the Technical University of Munich claim to be making headway in boosting magnetic fields relating to the steel sheets used in electric motors. This could have implications for the electric vehicle sector, in particular, and companies that make the ever-vague “high-efficiency” variety of motors.

Scientists at TUM have “investigated the way these steel sheets are processed and have concluded that using blunt cutting tools deteriorates the magnetic properties of the steel sheets significantly,” a February 16 press release stated. The scientists found out that the sharpness of the cutting tools used has a very significant impact on the magnetic properties of the steel sheets. The effect can be compared to a pair of scissors which dulls over time: More energy is needed to cut paper with the scissors. Regarding blanking, worn cutting edges result in higher tension in the steel sheets themselves – the material is bent and thus subject to increased mechanical stress. The resulting stress has a major impact on magnetic properties. “In some cases as much as four times the amount of electricity is needed to achieve the same degree of magnetization,” project director Hannes Weiss, of the TUM Chair of Metal Forming and Casting, said.

Toyota develops new magnet; halves rare earth demand for EVs. Consult your periodic table for this one. Toyota announced February 20 it has developed a new magnet can (optimally) cut in half the use of neodymium, the most widely used of rare earth elements. The new magnet would also cease the need for terbium and dysprosium. All three of these rare earths are increasingly high in demand due to the rise of the electric vehicle market, both current and further anticipated. Instead of neodymium, terbium, and dysprosium, Toyota will use the rare earths lanthanum and cerium, which are 20 times cheaper than neodymium. Toyota said it will ask suppliers to manufacture the magnets, Kevin Buckland and Nao Sano of Bloomberg Technology reported Tuesday.

Neodymium magnets are made from an alloy of neodymium, iron and boron to form the Nd2Fe14B tetragonal crystalline structure, according to the Handbook of Modern Sensors: Physics, Designs, and Applications, 4th Ed., by Jacob Fraden, published in 2010. Developed independently in 1982 by General Motors and Sumitomo Special Metals, neodymium magnets replaced other types of magnets in the many applications in modern products such as motors in cordless tools, hard disk drives and magnetic fasteners.

These magnets are used in high output motors in electrified vehicles, with up to 30% of the magnet using costly rare earth elements. The new magnet uses significantly less neodymium and can be used in high-temperature conditions. Neodymium plays an important role in maintaining high coercivity (the ability to maintain magnetization) and heat resistance, according to eeNews Europe.


  1. Hard Drivers | Electrical Apparatus Magazine - October 4, 2018

    […] Institute. Researchers Tim McIntyre and Jonathan Harter were on the front lines of the project, which echoes the findings of Toyota researchers earlier this year. The automotive company, in that case, did developed a new magnet; one which halved the rare earth […]

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