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Neodymium: Super Strength Magnets

Today, we have wind turbines and electric cars. The most used metal in these wind turbines and electric cars is called as neodymium. Let us explore more about this...

It is a rare metal but is widely used. Here is an overview of the chemistry and applications of the lanthanide which is a rare earth element neodymium and is a constituent of super-strength magnets that are used to miniaturise electric motors.

One of the most widely used of the group of elements known as lanthanides or rare earth elements is called as neodymium. It is the largest constituent of a new type of high-strength magnets that are used to increase the power and also to reduce the size and weight of electric motors. This makes the electric motors indispensible especially for the new generation of hybrid and electric cars, the miniaturisation of hard disk drives, and also for the construction of wind turbines, which also depend on strong magnetic fields to generate electricity.

Chemistry of Neodymium

Neodymium has a chemical symbol Nd and is an element with the atomic number of 60 which means that the nucleus of each atom has 60 protons. As a pure substance, it has a silvery-grey colour and is one of the most reactive lanthanides. It quickly tarnishes in the presence of air and is found in nature as an ore in minerals such as monazite and bastnasite.

Discovery of Neodymium

The famous Swedish chemist, Carl Gustaf Mosander discovered many of the rare earth elements, but he separated one oxide whose element he named didymium. It was in fact a mixture of two elements. This was shown by an Austrian chemist, Baron Carl Auer von Welsbach in 1885. Auer separated neodymium from praseodymium and another lanthanide. By the 1950s, neodymium was being commercially produced from monazite through an ion exchange process.

Neodymium was first commercially used in the pigmentation of glass. This glass was produced by the inclusion of neodymium oxide and appeared lavender in colour in daylight or incandescent light, but pale blue under fluorescent light. If gold or selenium is also added to the glass, red colours result. Neodymium is also an important constituent of the alloy of rare earth metals which is known as "mischmetal" and is used in the flint mechanism of many cigarette lighters.

Super Magnets

The commercial demand for neodymium has dramatically increased over the recent years due to the discovery of super-strength magnets which is made from an alloy of neodymium with iron and boron (Nd2Fe14B). The alloy was discovered in 1982, by General Motors, Sumitomo Special Metals and the China Academy of Science. This was done in response to the high price of samarium-cobalt magnets which were the first type of rare earth magnets to be commercialised.

Neodymium magnets have a much higher magnetic strength as compared to other permanent magnets and so are used in a wide range of modern technological applications which require permanent magnets. Their greater strength allows the use of smaller, lighter magnets. This range of uses includes magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), magnetic guitar pickups, loudspeakers and headphones, and motors in cordless tools, power steering and hybrid and electric vehicles.

The growing dependence of new environmentally friendly technology on the rare earth metals has raised concern over the continuing availability of these materials. For many years, China has produced and exported them to the rest of the world. The technology industry has had to either relocate production facilities to China, or look elsewhere for rare earth deposits.

Tags :     electric cars     wind turbines    


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