A rare material has the potential to transform humans’ technological advancement by offering a cheap alternative to rare earth minerals. Trouble is, it is a material that doesn’t exist on Earth and can only be found on a space meteorite. However, a breakthrough research by scientists has managed to produce the material on Earth for the very first time, offering new hope for sustainability and environmental preservation.
The science and other stuff to know
Everyone rightly believes in the fact that the future is electric. Be it vehicles or airplanes, harnessing the power of electricity to make the world go around seems to be where all the industrial action is. We all have a fair understanding that electricity needs a magnet to convert its energy into mechanical force. But few know that the more complex a machine gets, the higher becomes the need for permanent magnets.
The newly produced material is called tetrataenite and its magnetic properties make it ideal for replacing rare earth magnets. Laura Henderson, one of the scientists of the Northeastern University team that managed the feat, told NPR that tetrataenite was a compound based on nickel and iron. Millions of years of spatial processes have given it unique characteristics that make it ideal for use in high-end permanent magnets.
While rare earth elements are not that rare in nature, it is their mining and extraction from complex compounds that is an expensive and extensive process, both financially and environmentally. Moreover, the specialization of the extraction process has been monopolized by a single country, China, which controls more than 71 percent of the world’s extraction and 87 percent of the world’s processing capacity of rare earth materials, NPR cited an IEA report.
Given the world’s increasing reliance on permanent magnets and their cruciality for various leading industries, the above stats indicate far too much reliance on a single supplier. With the production of tetrataenite, scientists have discovered an alternative source of permanent magnets that could not only drive down costs but also leave less control in the hands of China.
Although the scientists are ecstatic over the possibilities tetrataenite offers, they admit it is far too early to claim anything for certain.
Henderson said there remained a “lot of testing to be done to find out whether lab tetrataenite is as hardy and as useful as the outer space material”. She said it would take at least five to eight years of concentrated efforts before the material could be utilized for permanent magnets. But if that were to happen, the world could have the option of not depending on a single powerful supplier.