Use of Tetrataenite as a Magnetic Material in Nuclear Engineering Applications

D. LaBrier, A. Tahhan-Acosta, C. Pitcher
Idaho State University,
United States

Keywords: tetrataenite, rare earths, magnet production


Rare earth (RE) magnets are used throughout consumer products and as industrial permanent magnets. Due to recent shortcomings in RE material availability and questionable mining and refinement processes worldwide, research efforts are being directed into finding alternatives that will lower the dependency from outsourcing such material. Despite any progress made, RE-free magnets have failed to be introduced on an industrial level. If successful, rare earth free magnets would lower the cost of currently used magnets as well as disrupting the market for the material. Several candidates have been investigated as replacements for RE materials, and one of the most interesting recent candidates is tetrataenite. Tetrataenite is an iron and nickel alloy that is naturally found in meteorites after millions of years of cooling. The iron and nickel atoms stack themselves into a sequence that forms a unique crystalline structure giving them similar magnetic properties to that of rare earth metals. Decades of research have been conducted in reproducing tetrataenite, with the first instance in the late 1960s by bombarding neutrons into iron and nickel alloys until the desired structure was achieved. Those methods were either too extreme for industrial production, or would require long periods of time while naturally occurring tetrataenite formed, for any practical uses to be carried out. Recent experimental breakthroughs from the University of Cambridge have drastically changed what was previously thought about tetrataenite. Processes that were thought to evolve over millions of years can now be accomplished in mere seconds to create tetrataenite from raw iron and nickel resources, and at a significant cost reduction to alternative extreme methods. This breakthrough opens the door for the use of tetrataenite in industrial applications such as carbon-free energy production through the advantage of its magnetic properties. The aim of this study is to further characterize tetrataenite to establish whether this material can be used as a replacement for rare earth permanent magnets and elsewhere. Due to how difficult previous methods were in producing tetrataenite, there is no extensive research into the properties of the material produced by terrestrial means, and uncertainty on future potential applications. As advanced technologies continue to be developed, it is important to assess all promising materials in order for the best candidates to be selected. Mechanical, thermal, magnetic, and electrical properties need to be well established before materials can be selected for further use, along with effects from stressors such as temperature, pressure, and ionizing radiation.