Saturday, April 13, 2024

GM to switch to rare earth-free magnets for its future EV motors

Permanent magnets are essential components in all automobiles, fundamental to audio systems, fuel pumps, air circulation, electric vehicle (EV) drivetrains, and much more. The permanent magnets in EV motor rotors are typically made from rare earth minerals like terbium, dysprosium, praseodymium, and neodymium, which are expensive and currently processed almost entirely overseas. Also, their mining and processing leave behind a heavy environmental footprint.

With the increasing demand for EVs and cars worldwide, the need for more stable and sustainable alternatives to rare-earth materials has become critical.

While some are exploring magnet-free motor designs as a possible solution, General Motors is taking a different approach by partnering with a Minneapolis-based startup, Niron Magnetics.

Niron’s Clean Earth Magnets are claimed to be the world’s first and only rare-earth-free permanent magnets capable of automotive-grade power. The technology is based on iron nitride, an abundant and affordable material with great potential for commercial use in future EVs.

These magnets are not only environmentally sustainable but also globally manufacturable and made from stable supply inputs. It is possible to source raw iron and nitrogen locally, in North America and other parts of the world, without causing environmental damage or facing supply chain issues that are often associated with rare earths.

Niron’s alternative to rare-earth magnets boasts improved temperature stability, making it a critical component for automotive use.

Moreover, Niron claims that iron nitride has a higher magnetic field strength than rare earth magnets. This means it could lead to the development of motors that are more efficient, lighter, and smaller than current neodymium magnet motors.

GM is deeply committed to an all-electric future and to making that future a reality and is focused on developing a broad portfolio of affordable and sustainable electric vehicles. In this effort, the company plans to co-develop Niron’s Clean Earth Magnet motor technology that can be used in future GM EVs. GM Ventures has also joined a growing list of investors that have recently raised $33 million in additional funding for Niron Magnetics.

“We believe Niron’s unique technology can play a key role in reducing rare earth minerals from EV motors and help us further scale our North American-based supply chain for EVs,” said Anirvan Coomer, president of GM Ventures, in the press release. “Our path to an all-electric future will be enabled not only by our own research and development efforts but also by investing in next-generation technology from startups and established companies outside our four walls.”

This new round of funding will advance the commercialization of Niron’s Iron Nitride-based Clean Earth Magnets. Other investors include Stellantis Ventures, the University of Minnesota, and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Community. With the new investments from GM Ventures and Stellantis Ventures and previous funding from Volvo Cars Tech Fund, Niron is now backed by three leading automotive manufacturers.

In addition to automobiles, Niron’s Clean Earth Magnet technology can be used in consumer electronics and audio technology, industrial motors, pumps, compressors, wind turbines, and more.