Electronics researchers to develop Iridium alternative

An international team of scientists has launched a €4.6m project to develop new materials to replace Iridium commonly used in magnetic storage devices.

According to York University, all spin electronic devices use an Iridium alloy, including hard disk drives and next-generation magnetic memories. The price of Iridium has risen, however, due to the scarcity of the metal and the increasing take up of these new technologies, the price of Iridium has risen.

Under the EU-backed project, the research team – which includes Bielefeld and Konstanz Universities, Germany, Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Hungary, and UK-based Mackintosh Consultants, as well as the York University’s Departments of Electronics and Physics – intends to develop Heusler alloy films to provide a cost-effective alternative to Iridium.

The European scientists will be working closely with a Japanese research team led by Prof Koki Takanashi from Tohoku University and, overall, the initiative is expected to lead to more European-Japanese co-operation in this area of materials research.

Project Scientific Co-ordinator Dr Atsufumi Hirohata, from York University’s  Department of Electronics, said: ‘It is widely recognised that spin electronic technologies will displace volatile semiconductor memory technology within the next decade. Therefore the lack of availability of one crucial element from within the periodic table is a critical issue to be solved urgently.

‘The price of Iridium has risen by a factor of four in the last five years and by more than a factor of 10 in the last decade. It is expected to soar perhaps by a factor of 100 due to its wider application.’

The team will use high-resolution (scanning) transmission electron microscopy and highly sensitive electrical and magnetic measurement facilities to fulfill the aims of the four-year project.

In a statement, Prof Takanashi said: ‘My colleagues at the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization in Tsukuba and my staff here at Tohoku University are excited to be working with such prestigious universities in Europe on this challenging but vital research. Iridium is such a rare metal – twice as rare as gold in the earth’s crust – that relying on it for such a key future technology represents a very high risk strategy.

‘Our research programme will impact this key material directly by providing an improved understanding of a wide ranging class of ternary alloys, and we will seek to find new materials and new compositions of Heusler Alloys to replace the need for Iridium in spin electronic devices.’

The Heusler Alloy Replacement for Iridium (HARFIR) project has received €1.8m in EU funding, with matching funding from the Japanese Science and Technology Agency.