LONDON—A materials research company has used artificial intelligence to develop a new permanent magnet that does not contain rare earth elements.

Materials Nexus developed the new magnet, MagNex, in partnership with the University of Sheffield and the Henry Royce Institute, the UK’s national institute for advanced materials research. 

Discovering new materials has historically been a slow, resource-intensive process, typically based on trial-and-error. As a result, material breakthroughs have trailed behind other innovations in industry. 

Materials Nexus has developed an AI platform to speed up the process. With an initial focus on magnets, Materials Nexus’ AI platform identified and analyzed more than 100 million compositions of rare earth-free permanent magnet candidates that address industry challenges, such as supply chain security, cost, performance and environmental issues. The current industry-standard permanent magnet took decades to discover and even longer to develop; MagNex took just three months to design, synthesize and test. 

MagNex can be produced at 20 percent of the material cost and with 70 percent less carbon emissions, compared to rare earth element magnets currently on the market.

Permanent magnets are essential for manufacturing a range of products, including electric vehicles, wind turbines, robotics and drones. Demand for rare earth magnets is expected to outpace the supply in the coming years. In the EV industry alone, the use of rare earth magnets is set to increase up to tenfold by 2030. However, the rare earth metals required to produce these magnets, such as neodymium and dysprosium, are vulnerable to a number of supply chain issues.

Materials Nexus’ systematic approach can be directed at other high-value areas in the green transition, such as semiconductors, superconductors and catalysts. As a result, material discovery is intentional, cheaper, faster and more environmentally friendly.

“AI-powered materials design will impact not only magnetics, but also the entire field of materials science,” says Jonathan Bean, Ph.D., CEO of Materials Nexus.  “We have now identified a scalable method for designing new materials for all kinds of industrial needs.”