GM and Stellantis aim for more affordable electric motor magnets

Proprietary ‘clean earth magnet’ promises reduced costs and greater supply chains security

GM and Stellantis aim for more affordable electric motor magnets
The experimental magnet is seen as worth a bet by two of the Detroit Three

US auto heavyweights GM and Stellantis have announced a deal with Minneapolis-based Niron Magnetics to invest in proprietary magnet technology for EV motors.

The technology, the so-called “clean earth magnet”, is designed and produced by Niron, and is described by GM as “the world’s first and only permanent magnet with automotive-grade power that is entirely free from critical materials, including rare or heavy rare earth minerals”.

As part of the agreement, Niron will receive $33mn in funding from the two automakers, in addition to previous local investors. Niron has also previously received investment from Sino-Swedish OEM Volvo

“This new financing will allow Niron to expand its current pilot production facilities and scale manufacturing capacity for exclusive customer programmes and initial sales of its clean earth magnet,” Niron says.

The funding will go towards expansions to Niron’s production facilities and engineering team, with a view to operating more prototyping programmes and small-scale product runs, the firm adds.

“Permanent magnets are essential components in all automobiles, fundamental to audio systems, fuel pumps, air circulation, electric vehicle drivetrains, and much more. As more cars are bought around the globe and demand surges for EVs, so does the demand for more stable and sustainable alternatives to rare-earth materials,” Niron outlines.

“EV motors are a key element of our Ultium Platform — their magnets present a great opportunity to reduce cost and environmental impact compared to traditional magnet materials, while localising our EV supply chain in North America,” GM says.

Clean-earth magnets could play a vital role in securing EV supply chains by reducing future reliance on rare earth materials. This is particularly resonant at a time when, for example, China is planning to restrict exports of graphite — admittedly not a rare earth.

And success for the clean earth magnet could also bring a reduction in costs for its US automaker backers, potentially a boon to improved margins on EVs for legacy OEMs that have recently cut back EV targets amid large per-unit losses.

“Niron’s proprietary clean earth magnet technology based on iron nitride enables magnets that possess inherently higher magnetisation and can be produced at a lower cost compared to today’s rare-earth magnets, and will enable a revolution in the design of new electric motors,” Niron promises.

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