Nanomagnetism Group

Lewis Lab    |    Heiman Lab

Rare-Earth-Free Supermagnets

Critical Need

Rare earths are naturally occurring minerals with unique magnetic properties that are used in electric vehicle (EV) motors and wind generators. Because these minerals are expensive and in limited supply, improvements must be made to encourage existing technologies to use rare earths more efficiently, or to replace them altogether with inexpensive and abundant materials like nickel and manganese. Alternatives to rare earths will contribute to the cost-effectiveness of EVs and wind generators, facilitating their widespread use and drastically reducing the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.

Project Innovation + Advantages

Northeastern University will develop bulk quantities of rare earth free permanent magnets for use in the electric motors of renewable power generators and EVs. The first research pathway includes the iron-nickel L10-type crystal structure. This material could offer magnetic properties that are equivalent today’s best commercial magnets, but with a significant cost reduction and diminished environmental impact. This iron-nickel crystal structure, which is only found naturally in meteorites, will be artificially synthesized by the Northeastern team. Its material structure will be replicated with the assistance of alloying elements introduced to help it achieve superior magnetic properties which previously developed over billions of years as the parent asteroidal body cooled in space. The second research pathway seeks to create a high energy-product, rare-earth-free magnet via nanometer-level structural development of a material consisting of the interstitially-modified L10-type Mn-rich compound MnAl(C) combined with high-moment Fe or FeCo at the nanoscale to create a nanocomposite magnetic system — a magnetic “exchange spring” — that ideally exhibits the best technical attributes of both constituent phases. The ultimate goal of this project is to demonstrate bulk magnetic properties that can be fabricated at the industrial scale.

image1   image2
Polished and etched slices of the Carlton IIICD iron meteorite showing Widmanstätten patterns. Goldstein et al. Chemie der Erde Geochem, 69 (4) (2009) pp 293-325   Magnetic Exchange Spring: Hard phase stiffens response of soft high-magnetization phase in magnetic
nanocomposite structures.
E.F. Kneller, R. Hawig, IEEE Trans. Magn. 27 (1991) 3588-3600



If successful, Northeastern’s meteorite-inspired magnets would contains no rare earth minerals and could help power a renewable power generator or an EV motor better than today’s best commercial magnets.

  • SECURITY : The U.S. produces less than 1% of the global rare earth mineral supply. Reducing our dependence on foreign countries for these minerals would have a positive effect on our economic security by protecting U.S. manufacturers and consumers from high import costs and uncertain supply.
  • ENVIRONMENT : The transportation and electric power sectors account for nearly 75% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions each year. Better magnets would support the widespread use of EVs and wind power, significantly reducing these emissions.
  • ECONOMY : The U.S. spends nearly $1billion per day on petroleum. Improvements in magnet technology would enable a broader use of EVs, which would help insulate our economy from unexpected spikes in the price of oil.
  • JOBS: Construction and manufacturing of renewable power facilities and EVs could create hundreds of thousands of jobs by 2030.

Project Team

Project TeamProf. Laura H. Lewis - Northeastern University
Prof. Vincent G. Harris - Northeastern University
Prof. Katayun Barmak - Columbia University
Prof. Joseph Goldstein UMass Amherst
Prof. Jeff Shield - University of Nebraska
Prof. Ralph Skomski - University of Nebraska
Dr. Frederick E. Pinkerton – General Motors
Steve Constantinides - Arnold Magnetic Tech Corp
Dr. Mark A. Johnson - US Department of Energy
Dr. Aron Newman - Booz Allen Hamilton
Dr. Yajie Chen - Northeastern University
Dr. John Boyle - Northeastern University
Dr. Arif Mubarok – UMass Amherst
Ms. Ana-Maria Montes-Arrango - Northeastern Univ
Ms. Nina Bordeaux - Northeastern University
Mr. Tom Dusseault - Northeastern University


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Mark Johnson,

Project Contact:
Dr. Laura Lewis,

Partner Organizations:
Arnold Magnetic Technologies
Columbia University
General Motors
University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Nebraska—Lincoln