The University of Alabama

UA Leads Effort to Develop Alternative Material for Green-Energy

Dr. Takao Suzuki

Dr. Takao Suzuki, director of UA’s Center for Materials for Information Technology, or MINT, is leading a collaborative, international effort to find an alternative source material necessary to sustain the growing electric-energy movement.

This is an approximate $1.6 million effort by a consortium that includes 13 other UA researchers along with scientists in Germany, Japan and elsewhere in the United States.

Just as supply, access and environmental issues surrounding oil led to searches for alternatives to traditional energy efforts, similar issues surrounding naturally magnetic materials are causing concerns about sustaining electric energy.

These naturally magnetic materials, known as rare-earth materials, make the most powerful and efficient magnets, and their size and reliability are well suited for electric motors that use their magnetic field as power. However, the U.S. Department of Energy estimated in December 2010 that usage of electric vehicles and offshore wind farms could create a shortage of these minerals as early as 2015.

And, the extraction of these rare-earth minerals has created environmental concerns.

A limited supply of these materials has jumped prices for some rare-earth minerals as much as 700 percent in one year, according to the DOE. China is said to produce about 95 percent of the world’s supply of rare-earth materials.

Under the new effort MINT researchers, along with those at the University of Delaware, the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research and the Technical University of Darmstadt, both in Germany; and the National Institute for Materials Science and TDK Corp., both in Japan, will seek to produce a permanent magnet that functions as well or better than rare-earth magnets but uses a more abundant manganese-based alloy.

The project seeks to develop both a thin-film magnet and a bulk magnet from the alternative materials.

The consortium’s effort is made possible through a recent award from the G8 Research Councils Initiative on Multilateral Research Funding. Funding for the project, whose research theme is “Materials Efficiency – A first step towards sustainable manufacturing,” was awarded in September, and the project is scheduled to continue through September 2016.

When this overall initiative launched in 2010, it was the first time research organizations from across the G8 nations joined forces to address major global challenges, according to the initiative’s website.

The MINT Center’s funding share is $600,000, and it comes from the National Science Foundation. Suzuki also expressed appreciation for the UA administration’s support of the project.

The MINT Center has more than 40 faculty members from seven departments. MINT is active in research and education through global professional partnerships, including industries, national laboratories and universities around the world.