Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory have found clues into ways to make magnets longer lasting and more powerful.

The permanent magnets are important in a broad variety of commercial technologies, from car starters to alternators for wind power generation to computer hard drives.

Using the Western Hemisphere’s most powerful X-rays at the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne, the researchers were able to see new details of rare-earth ions, a critical component of permanent magnets.

The research found that rare-earth ions in dissimilar crystalline environments compete with one another, and undermine the magnetic performance of the highest performance magnets, said Argonne scientist Daniel Haskel, who led the research team.

These findings point to the need for specialized atomic engineering of the material — manipulating the rare-earth local atomic structure to fully utilize the rare-earth contribution in next generations of magnets.

More here.