The development of rare earth magnets has enabled the miniaturisation of motors and large wind turbine drives.
Magnets are important components in both our daily lives and in industrial uses. They come in various forms but are mainly divided into two types: permanent (hard) and non-permanent (soft) magnets. The strength of permanent magnets has been improved through the development of a range of alloys. Since the discovery of very high strength magnets using rare earth elements, specifically neodymium, these have become important in the transition to clean energy technologies. Due to their strength, rare earth magnets have enabled the miniaturisation of magnetic motors and are deployed in wide range of industrial uses. Non-permanent, soft magnets are electromagnets, essential in many electronics as they can be magnetised and de-magnetised.
Today, most types of magnets are produced and manufactured in China, followed by Japan and Germany for rare earth magnets. Recent investigations have tied Chinese-owned rare earth mining companies in Myanmar to significant ESG issues, coinciding with growing export of rare earths from Myanmar to China that reached $780 million in value in 2021.
The optimisation of recycling of rare earth magnets is still under development today. The recovery of the magnets themselves can be difficult because of miniaturisation and the complex way that these components are embedded into larger assemblies, requiring further research and design improvements.
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