Rare Earth Metals -What Are They Used For?
Rare Earth Metals have become very important to our high-tech economy in recent years. Many new uses have been found for rare earths and they are found both in everyday applications like mobile phones and computers and very special technologies, like anti-counterfeiting. Rare earth metals 12 things
They occupy that part at the bottom of the Periodic Table that looks almost like a footnote. It’s the part with the longest, most unpronounceable names of elements that you probably ignored when you were in science class.
This part of the periodic table is set apart at the bottom of the page-full of elements that look like they don’t belong with the more normal elements.
Nobody could blame you for ignoring elements with names like Ytterbium, Gadolinium and Praseodymium, and if you tried to find out anything about them, there would be a single sentence in your science book that basically described them as “other” metals.
If your science book said anything about them, it would be some obscure thing like what they said about Europium –it was used as a phosphor. Now what the heck is a phosphor? It’s interesting and important, but we’ll get to that later.
If you looked up Neodymium, you might learn that it is used in magnets. Years ago, such a mention would be a simple footnote.
But these days, Neodymium magnets have become a big mover and shaker in new, high-tech applications. Neodymium has achieved geopolitical importance as it has found ways to be used in a growing list of commercially-important high-tech applications.
Rare Earth Magnets Power Our Economy
Things have changed in recent years. Magnets made from rare earth metals are powering all sorts of gadgets that have become very important to our economy, and they are becoming more important for some really high-tech systems.
Rare earth metals are now used by designers to improve the efficiency and performance of many different technologies, including the magnetic technologies that power hybrid and electric vehicles, mobile phones, wind turbines, loudspeakers, robots, factory automation equipment, and aircraft controls.
Magnets made from rare earth metals have led to miniaturization of all of these systems, making components that are more compact and allowing designers to create products with form factors never before imagined.
Rare Earth Magnets in Hybrid and Electric Vehicles
When Tesla Motors built their first two full-sized car models, they used electric induction motors to power the vehicles. These motors were based on Nikola Tesla’s original motor design – a brilliant design that preceded the invention of the rare earth magnet by almost 100 years.
Induction motors create their own magnetism with electricity. They operate without permanent magnets of any kind.
The induction motor is a fine design, but there’s a good reason Tesla Motors switched to using a Permanent Magnet motor for their Model 3 in 2017. The Model 3 is a smaller car and it needed a smaller motor that would still have plenty of power.
Tesla Motors also wanted a more efficient motor that would help them extend the range of the vehicle without adding more expensive battery capacity. The answer for Tesla was the very thing they had avoided for years –a permanent magnet motor using Neodymium magnets.
Tesla isn’t the only auto company using rare earth magnets in their automotive traction motors. In fact Tesla Motors was the only company NOT using rare earth magnets until the Model 3. Everybody else is using rare earth magnets in their motors.
Why Are Automakers Using Rare Earth Magnet Traction Motors?
Rare earth magnets are also known as NdFeB (neodymium-iron-boron) magnets, or neodymium magnets, after the principal element that creates the magnetism. NdFeB magnets are the strongest magnets made (except for superconducting magnets).
These strong magnets create more magnetic field lines in a smaller area, allowing designers to make smaller electric motors that are just as powerful as the larger motors they replaced. Electric motors made with NdFeB permanent magnets can be over 50% smaller and lighter than electric motors without permanent magnets.
This gives automotive designers (and many other designers) many more options in their designs, because now they have more room for other components and the weight savings gives them more design latitude with their other components.
These factors create a ripple effect through the entire system, allowing many components – and ultimately the entire automobile- to become smaller while performing all the functions of a larger, heavier design.
Rare Earth Elements in Cell Phones
If you have noticed how the mobile phone has become radically miniaturized since it was first invented, you will get an idea of how NdFeB magnets have contributed to the miniaturization of the mobile phone. It’s well-known that miniaturization of electronic circuits was a huge part of making the mobile phone smaller, but don’t forget that the magnet played its part, too.
Rare earth Neodymium-based magnets have allowed designers to create phone speakers that give excellent sound quality even though they are much smaller than speakers from just a few years ago.
The silent ring feature uses a tiny magnet –taking up an incredibly small amount of space inside the phone case, yet it has enough power to be felt –and heard- very easily.
The autofocus motor is barely noticeable, adding just a few thousandths of an inch of material around the camera lens. It is also very powerful, adjusting the focus of the lens in a fraction of a second with great precision.
Taptic feedback engines inside mobile phones give the user much-needed feedback to know when they have pressed the keys correctly. The critical element of these tiny engines is -of course- an unseen NdFeB magnet.
Phosphors - What Are They and What They Are Used For?
A phosphor is a synthetic source of luminescence. Phosphors have been used in color TV screens and cathode ray tubes (CRTs) for years. They are used in very small amounts to accentuate the color of the screen.
If you are looking at a vivid picture on a color TV it is due to the use of phosphors. Europium is great for making the color red.
Compounds of Gadolinium and Terbium are used to make yellow-green phosphors.
LED lights use combinations of phosphors to adjust the color; the naked LED doesn’t always have the right color for the application. The addition of a small amount of phosphor gives the light just the right color temperature that will be pleasing to the eye.
Rare Earth Metals are Mostly Hidden
Neodymium (NdFeB) magnets have become more and more important in our lives as technology becomes more important. But most Neodymium magnets are embedded deep inside the products we use, so we never see them.
Since our customers are counted among the many companies that use these incredible elements, we can pull back the curtain so you can see what they are doing to make our lives better.
What’s even more interesting than the products that use Rare Earth Metals are some unusual facts about these incredible elements that even many people in the industry don’t know.
Now that you’ve got some background information, here are the 12 Things You Didn't Know:
12 Things You Didn’t Know About Rare Earth Metals
Rare earth metals 12 things
Now You Know How Important They Are
Rare earth metals and compounds have become critically important in our high-tech world. They are in so many everyday items in our connected world that we touch and use products containing rare earth metals every day.