Hard Drivers

Researchers use magnets from used computer hard drive to power axial gap motor

Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee have used magnets recovered from used computer hard drives in an electric motor. In a first-ever demonstration of its kind, the permanent magnets made from rare earth elements were reused without alteration in an axial gap motor, which can be adapted for use in electric vehicles and industrial machinery, ORNL said in a news release October 1.

The demonstration is part of an effort to find ways to recycle rare earth permanent magnets, which are necessary for electric cars, cell phones, laptops, wind turbines and factory equipment.

The rare earth ore used to make the magnets is in high demand and mined almost exclusively outside the United States.

We’re not inventing a new magnet. We’re enabling a circular economy—putting these recycled magnets into a new package that takes advantage of their strengths while addressing a key materials challenge for American industry.

—ORNL’s Tim McIntyre

The project was funded in part by the Department of Energy’s Critical Materials 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 demand for EVs. In a breakthrough best accompanied by a periodic table, Toyota announced back on February 20 that it 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.

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