In a Non-Exclusive Licensing Agreement, Momentum Technologies Will Commercialize ORNL’s 3D Printed Magnet Technology

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In October of 2016, researchers from TU Wien announced that they had used 3D printing to create strong permanent magnets. About a month later, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), which recently announced its new director, did the same thing, and released a study on how 3D printed permanent magnets can outperform those created by traditional methods, while at the same time conserving rare materials. While magnets may look simple, they often have a greater purpose than holding your pictures on the fridge or keeping your shoes laced.

This isotropic, neodymium-iron-boron bonded permanent magnet was 3D-printed at DOE’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Parans Paranthaman

“You have 100 or more magnets in any automobile. In the ignition and the motor or to open the roof or move the seat – every moving part is made with a magnet,” said Parans Paranthaman, the magnet project’s principal investigator and a group leader in ORNL’s Chemical Sciences Division. A refrigerator magnet is simple, permanent magnets are very powerful and used in wind turbines, high-speed trains, elevators and hospital scanners. Magnets are everywhere.”

The technique that Paranthaman and his team worked out is able 3D print magnets, using the neodymium magnets in recycled hard disk drives, which possess better microstructural, mechanical, and magnetic properties than those conventionally manufactured…and other companies are starting to take notice.

This week, ORNL announced that Momentum Technologies, which was established in Dallas, Texas last year and specializes in e-waste, rare earth elements, recycling, and urban mining, has non-exclusively licensed its 3D printed magnet technology. Momentum has a worldwide exclusive licensing agreement with the US Department of Energy and its Critical Materials Institute to develop and commercialize its Membrane Solvent Extraction (MSX) technology to recycle rare earth elements from e-waste, and also plans to work with ORNL to commercialize the world’s first 3D printed magnet made from recycled materials.

Paranthaman said, “Momentum Technology will take it to the next level and to the market.”

This isn’t the first time that Momentum has teamed up with ORNL; it also holds two other ORNL technology licenses, both related to the extraction of magnets and rare earth minerals from e-waste.

Preston Bryant [Image: LinkedIn]

Momentum CEO Preston Bryant said in a news release, “Bringing together these technologies through the Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute and ORNL allows us to create a sustainable domestic supply of low-cost magnets made from recycled materials recovered from hard disk drives.”

In its original 2016 study, ORNL demonstrated that 3D printed magnets can perform better than conventionally manufactured magnets, and can be used for applications like high-speed rail, electric vehicles, and wind turbines. The ORNL technique melts composite pellets, which contain 35% nylon and 65% neodyminum magnet, or NdFeB. Then, the laboratory’s Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) machine prints the magnets to the software’s specifications.

Composite pellets are melted, compounded, and extruded layer-by-layer into desired forms

Unlike conventionally produced large magnets, which Paranthaman says waste up to 50% of the material when they’re cut, ORNL’s 3D printed magnets use 100% of the material.

Paranthaman explained, “You’re starting with an expensive critical material and by the time you shape it you lose a lot of material.”

Complex magnets can also be made using an injection molding process, but this isn’t really ideal due to the high cost.

“Just as you need a mold for cookie dough, you can create a mold or dye to make a magnet. But with the injection molding it can cost up to $100,000 to create a mold,” said Paranthaman. “3D printing forms complex shapes layer by layer without a mold.”

In addition to leaving a smaller global footprint by using all of the material, ORNL’s technique helps the environment by using recycled material to make magnets.

“Old computers are obsolete so we have billions of hard disk drives that are available right now. We were looking for a domestic supply and developing a method to substitute non-critical materials. Ninety percent of the critical material is imported from China so we are looking at recycling and remanufacturing the domestic material,” said Paranthaman.

These magnets contain rare earths elements; contrary to their name, they aren’t exactly rare, but are not typically found in deposits that are rich enough to making mining worthwhile. They can be expensive, since they only have limited availability and are usually not mined in the US.

While Momentum gets to work on commercializing ORNL’s 3D printed magnets, Paranthaman and his team have some of their own work to do to keep the project moving forward.

Paranthaman said, “We can print on a small scale, but we have plans to do the large-scale printing this summer.”

Discuss in the 3D Printed Magnets forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: Knoxville News Sentinel / Images: ORNL unless otherwise noted]

 

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