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Electron Energy Corporation (EEC), a US producer of rare-earth magnets, has won a USD750,000 Small Business Technology Transfer Research (STTR) contract.

The Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, Argonne, Illinois awarded the Phase II research contract (DOE Grant Award No DE-FG02-07ER86308), which runs from August 2008 through August 2009, and is for the development of high-performance magnets and magnet technologies for advanced motors used in hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs).

Phase II research will centre on developing a new class of permanent magnets with high magnetic performance, high resistivity, superior thermal stability and low cost.

EEC completed Phase I research in July 2008.

Dr Jinfang Liu, an expert on rare-earth magnet materials and EEC vice-president of technology and engineering, will serve as the principal investigator and director of the research project.

He said: ‘Our goal is to design and develop nanocomposite magnets that can reduce eddy-current losses and withstand high temperatures to improve the performance of electric motors for plug-in hybrid cars as well as conventional motors and generator applications.’ EEC will collaborate on the research and receive support from the University of Delaware under the leadership of Dr George Hadjipanayis, the Richard B Murrey professor of physics and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Walmer said: ‘Our research will be critical for the development of plug-in hybrid motors that are more efficient, affordable and pollution-free.

‘We are confident that the technologies we develop will help to decrease US dependence on foreign oil.

‘Ultimately, this programme aims to improve performance and significantly reduce the cost of vehicles powered by forms of energy other than those derived from fossil fuel.’ Liu said eddy-current loss is a major consideration in some motor designs.

In order to reduce the eddy-current losses in motors caused by permanent magnets, designers typically use segmented magnets rather than single-piece magnets, which reduces the eddy-current losses, but also increases the manufacturing cost.

Key components of Phase II research include: improving the magnetic performance of high-temperature magnets by compositional and process-related modifications, as well as developing new hybrid magnets; reducing eddy-current losses by increasing the electrical resistivity in new composite magnets that contain dielectric constituents; and decreasing costs by using less expensive raw materials and lower cost-process procedures.

Peter Dent, EEC vice-president of business development, said EEC proposes to develop a new class of Sm-Co permanent magnets with an electrical resistivity five to 10 times higher than those of commercially available magnets and deliver superior magnetic performance.

These high-resistivity magnets, which can operate at temperatures above 200C, will significantly reduce eddy-current losses and keep the cost low for motor/generators systems.

EEC produces ultra-high temperature Sm-Co magnets capable of operating in the 350-550C range.

Competitive magnet technologies have energy products several times lower than EEC high temperature magnets.

Since 1996, EEC has been granted 18 STTR or SBIR Phase I and Phase II programs, which resulted in three patents, as well as more than 20 papers published in professional journals.

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