Lavernia Collaborates with Sandia National Labs to Develop New Soft Magnetic Material

Distinguished Professor Enrique Lavernia has co-developed a new soft magnetic material that will increase the efficiency of smart grid power electronics, transformers and electric machines.

Sept. 15, 2022 - A new soft magnetic material co-developed by materials science and engineering Distinguished Professor Enrique Lavernia in collaboration with Sandia National Laboratories has been recognized with a 2022 R&D100 Award. The project is one of 100 award-winning products and technologies selected as a disruptor, that according to R&D World, “have the potential to change industries and make the world a better place in the coming years.”

Todd Monson, a physicist and principal member of Sandia National Laboratories’ technical staff, is Lavernia’s co-developer on the iron nitride soft magnetic material. “We have created the world’s first commercially available iron nitride soft magnetic alloy (Fe4N), which offers revolutionary performance advantages over other existing soft magnetic materials,” said Lavernia.

According to the researchers, iron nitride has higher magnetization, and its electrical resistivity is more than three orders of magnitude greater than electrical steel—the prevailing material of choice for large transformers and other power-producing equipment. Iron nitride soft magnetic material can be fabricated or “net-shaped” directly into soft magnetic parts, eliminating the need for machining and therefore reducing manufacturing costs. Because Fe4N is comprised of only the very abundant elements iron and nitrogen, it is also a low-cost material.

Global demand for high-efficiency, green energy technologies and products has placed new challenges on the electrical grid, the efficient exploitation of renewable energy resources, distributed energy resources such as energy storage, and all electricity-based transportation systems (vehicles, aircraft and ships). All of these applications require advanced power semiconductor devices and rely on high-performance soft magnetic materials. These materials form key components—the magnetic cores—of high frequency inductors, solid-state transformers, electric generators and electric motors.

“Iron nitride will increase the efficiency of smart grid power electronics, transformers and electric machines while reducing their size and weight by an order of magnitude,” said Monson.

Other contributors to the project include UCI project scientist Baolong Zheng and materials science academic program manager Yizhang Zhou.

Established in 1963, the R&D 100 Awards is the only science and technology competition that recognizes new commercial products, technologies and materials for their technological significance that are available for sale or license.

– Lori Brandt