The proposed magnet stems from the well-known samarium and cobalt (SmCo5, CaCu5-type structure) magnet, but goes a step further and substitutes most of the cobalt with iron and nickel.
More modern neodymium magnets have an advantage over SmCo5 because of their greater maximum energy. But the new magnet removes most of the disadvantages of SmCo5 while preserving its superior high-temperature efficiency over the neodymium magnets.
Unfortunately, substituting all cobalt atoms for iron, — which has a larger magnetic moment that helps increase the maximum energy product — makes the ordinary hexagonal phase thermodynamically unstable. This phase, however, is critical for the materials properties and it must be retained for a practical magnet. The Lab researchers were able to circumvent this problem and stabilize the hexagonal phase by adding a small amount of nickel.
Using first-principles electronic-structure calculations, Lawrence Livermore scientists Per Soderlind,Alexander Landa, Daniel Aberg, Marcus Dane and Patrice Turchi found that their new magnet (SmCoNiFe3) has very promising magnetic properties and could replace SmCo5 or neodymium magnets in various applications.
The new efficient permanent magnet substitutes most of the cobalt in SmCo5 with iron and dopes it with a small amount of nickel. “This is a very timely discovery because the cobalt prices are up and have nearly doubled this year because of the anticipated demand for lithium-ion-cobalt batteries,” Soderlind said. “Iron, on the other hand, is abundant and very inexpensive.”
The researchers also have filed a provisional patent based on this research.