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Research Highlight

Magnets—Coming around again

ORNL researchers repurpose rare earth magnets in electric engine

Topics: Clean Energy Electricity and Smart Grid
In work funded by the DOE Critical Materials Institute, ORNL researchers are demonstrating how rare earth permanent magnets can be harvested from used computer disk drives and repurposed in an axial gap motor. Credit: Jason Richards/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Magnets recovered from used computer hard drives found new life in an electric motor in a first-ever demonstration at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The permanent magnets made from rare earth elements were reused without alteration in an axial gap motor, which can be adapted for use in electric vehicles and industrial machinery. The demonstration is part of an effort to find ways to recycle rare earth permanent magnets, which are necessary for electric cars, cell phones, laptops, wind turbines and factory equipment. The rare earth ore used to make the magnets is in high demand and mined almost exclusively outside the United States. “We’re not inventing a new magnet,” said ORNL’s Tim McIntyre. “We’re enabling a circular economy—putting these recycled magnets into a new package that takes advantage of their strengths while addressing a key materials challenge for American industry.”