Military Applications of the REEs in the United States

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) uses rare earths in a number of military technologies and is dependent on their availability. (1) China’s near monopoly in rare earths has the attention of American security experts, the DoD, and the U.S. Congress.The U.S. rare earths policy is the DoD policy. Since its adoption in 2011, there has been a significant improvement in rare earths markets. The existing policy, combined with natural markets forces, are working together to improve supply, demand, and market prices. U.S. lawmakers need to resist pressures to pass needless legislation that will only disrupt natural market forces, increasing the cost while decreasing long-term availability.(1)

Rare earth elements play an essential role in the US national defense. The army uses night-vision goggles, precision-guided weapons, communications equipment, GPS equipment, batteries, and other defense electronics. Technologies of this sort give the United States military an enormous advantage. Rare earth metals are key ingredients for making the very hard alloys used in armored vehicles and projectiles that disintegrate upon impact. (2)

Substitutes can be used for rare earth elements in some defense applications; however, those substitutes are usually not as effective and that diminishes military superiority. Several uses of rare earth elements are summarized in the following table. (2)

Table 1. Defense Uses of Rare Earth Elements

Defense Uses of Rare Earth Elements

Lanthanum night-vision goggles
Neodymium laser range-finders, guidance systems, communications
Europium fluorescents and phosphors in lamps and monitors
Erbium amplifiers in fiber-optic data transmission
Samarium permanent magnets that are stable at high temperatures
Samarium precision-guided weapons
Samarium “white noise” production in stealth technology


(1)¬†LTC William R. Glaser : ”U.S. Rare Earths Policy: Digging Out of the¬†Rare Earths Quandary ” ¬†(luce.nt)

(2) (2017-02-14)

The magic of printable magnets


Product from Polymagnet. .gif from

Product from Polymagnet. .gif from

This mysterious red thing was given to three engineers with the question: ‚ÄúCan you explain this?‚ÄĚ

They took it in their hands, and pulled, turned and twisted the thing, only to be more confused.
When the two handles were far apart, they attracted each other, but when they were close they repelled. And when twisted to a certain position, they came together.

Magical. How is it possible? They asked, mindblown.
Actually, it is magnets. But in a completely new way.

The scene above is from this video¬†(click, it’s a must-watch!), by smartereveryday, who visits the company behind this ‘toy’, Polymagnet.

They have developed a technology to print¬†magnetic designs on the surface of magnets.¬†This means that they can create multiple north and south poles on the same surface, and the higher density of poles – the tighter the ‘reach’ of the magnet gets.

The reach of the polymagnets can be tailored. Screenshot from the video by smartereveryday.

The reach of the polymagnets can be tailored. Screenshot from the video by smartereveryday.

Apart from being able to tailor the reach of the magnetic field, the focused force of the polymagnets mean that there are less interference and energy waste. And of course, since the magnetic patterns are printed to a very fine detail, where every maxel (magnetic pixel) represents one pole, the designs have no limits.

Printing maxels (magnetic pixels) allow infinite possibilities of magnetic patterns. Screenshot from the video by smartereveryday.

Printing maxels (magnetic pixels) allow infinite possibilities of magnetic patterns. Screenshot from the video by smartereveryday.

So, if we have a look at the mysterious red object again, the magnetic viewing film shows that the magnetic pattern is in the shape of the cog, which explains why it comes together when twisted to the right position.

The latch mechanism shown on magnetic viewing film. Screenshot from the video by smartereveryday.

The latch mechanism shown on magnetic viewing film.
Screenshot from the video by smartereveryday.

And with our new knowledge about the ‘reach’, we can imagine the magnetic pattern has been designed with a long reach attraction and short reach repulsion. And it’s all between two magnets.

This specific design, with its spring and latch mechanism, is thought be a good fit for a cabinet door closure. But really, when you can tailor the strength and geometry of the magnetic pattern, the possibilities for the Polymagnets are endless.

They call it ‚Äėsmart magnets‚Äô.
And it is hard to disagree.

It is clear that these are not only toys, that instead this innovation can revolutionise the use of magnets in product design.

Will permanent-magnet motors be replaced by induced motors without rare earth elements in the future?

The alternative motor without rare-earth minerals was developed by Toyota Motor, If this motor can be produced in large amount, Toyota Motor doesn’t need at risk of supply disruptions in the future. The alternative motor was called induction motor which is lighter and more efficient than the magnet-type motor. It has been used in Toyota Prius and Tesla Model S.1

Induction motors, except not requiring rare-earth materials, induction motors also can offer higher efficiency and durability than permanent-magnet motors in some applications. Induction motors operate by inducing electrical currents in conductors in the motor’s rotor. these currents in turn give rise to a magnetic field in the rotor and thus produce torque. As a result, when switched off, these motors are inert, producing no electrical voltage or current, no losses and no cogging torque. These machines can produce high levels of performance using modern and well understood vector control techniques.2


1. Toyota Reading Motors That don’t use rare earths.

2. J. D. Widmer, R. Martin, M. Kimiabeigi. Electric vehicle traction motors without rare earth magnets. Sustainable Materials and Tecnologies. Volume 3, April 2015, Pages 7‚Äď13

Magnets in art (and design)

Ever since magnetism was discovered thousands of years ago, people have been fascinated by it. And of course we are, anyone who has played with magnets and felt the magnetism knows that it is a special force; an invisible, powerful and almost magical force.

Which makes it perfect for art, where the artists can explore freely and create and visualize concepts in ways that not only looks cool; it makes us think.

Below I have collected some examples of art based on magnetism.

Measuring Space #6 Variation 2, 2013 by Eske Rex Oak, maple, leash, magnets 22 √ó 7.5 cm

“Measuring Space #6 Variation 2″, 2013 by Eske Rex
Oak, maple, leash, magnets
22 √ó 7.5 cm

A popular theme is to play the magnetic force against gravity.

In the piece by Eske Rex above, the magnetic force cancels out the gravitational force, and we get what looks like zero gravity.
Bruce Gray‚Äôs ‚ÄúSuspension‚ÄĚ, below, is based on a similar idea, however there is a sense of motion to this piece.

"Suspension", by Bruce Gray.

“Suspension”, by Bruce Gray.

Wooden Box with Horseshoe Magnet, 2006 by Caleb Charland.

Wooden Box with Horseshoe Magnet, 2006 by Caleb Charland.

The concept is taken to an extreme in Caleb Charlands¬†sculpture above. The observer is a bit puzzled by how the heavy magnet can stay in that position, without anything physically keeping it in place, except the magnetism, which flow lines are symbolized by strings, but are more correctly visualized in ‚ÄúMagnetic Fields II‚ÄĚ below.


"Magnetic Fields II", 2014 by Caleb Charland

“Magnetic Fields II”, 2014 by Caleb Charland

350 points towards infinity, 2009, by Tatiana Trouve Plumb, magnets

350 points towards infinity, 2009, by Tatiana Trouve
Plumb, magnets

The last one on the theme is the piece by Tatiana Trouve, above. Also here the objects seem to not be in equilibrium, which almost settles one in unrest.

Magnetism has also been used for moving artworks, like the video (click here or on the image) below by Kaplamino, who used marbles and magnets to make a Rube Goldberg machine.




Finally, two examples where magnetism has been used for interior design products. A levitating bonsai tree, and a ferrofluid clock (click on the images).

Air Bonsai by Japanese company Hoshinchu

Air Bonsai by Japanese company Hoshinchu

Ferrolic, by Zelf Koelman

Ferrolic, by Zelf Koelman

Research focused on rare earth elemants is HOT!

Last month the 10th edition of the famous international conference of Molten slags, fluxes and salts took place in Seattle, Washington, USA. This conference is organized every 4 years by TMS. It is a leading conference for sharing process and mechanistic knowledge in high-temperature processing. This time the focus lay in the field of extractive metallurgy and development of novel materials.

Surprisingly, a lot of presentations were focused on rare earth elements. Investigations varied from recycling possibilities, to thermodynamic studies and molten salt researches. It s very obvious that Rare Earth researches are finding their way into the spotlights and are definitely becoming a force to be reckoned with.

Some examples from presentations are:

  • Electrochemical Recycling of Batteries using Molten oxides and Salts (Zhang Z. et al., Peking University)
  • In situ observation of Rare earth containing precipitated phase crystallization and solidification of CaO-SiO2-Nd2O3 and CaO-SiO2-Nd2O3-P2O5 Melts (Le T.H., KULeuven)
  • Techniques for measuring solubility and electrical conductivity in molten salts (Su S., Boston University)
  • Surface properties of molten fluoride-based salts (T. Villalon, Boston University)
  • etc.