- The venture capital arms of General Motors and Stellantis participated in a $33 million funding round for Niron Magnetics, a Minnesota-based developer of rare earth-free permanent magnets, according to a press release Wednesday.
- Niron will use the funding to expand its pilot production facilities and scale manufacturing of its “Clean Earth Magnet” for automotive customers.
- Three major automakers, including the Volvo Cars Tech Fund, have now backed the company.
Niron says its permanent magnets, key components of electric vehicle motors, are less expensive, more sustainable and do not contain rare earth metals neodymium and dysprosium, which are environmentally damaging to mine.
The rare earth-free magnets could also make automakers less dependent on China, which produces 70% of rare earths. The country imposed tighter export controls on rare earths this week in retaliation for U.S. restrictions on semiconductor exports to China.
The funding will help Niron Magnetics expand its pilot production capacities and customer prototyping programs, as well as support small-scale product runs for key markets, according to the press release. The U.S. Department of Energy awarded Niron $17.5 million in November 2022 to ramp up magnet production.
Instead of using neodymium and dysprosium, rare earth-free magnets are manufactured using iron nitride, a mixture of iron and nitrogen that’s inexpensive, abundant and much more sustainable. Iron nitride magnets cost around 50% less than rare earth magnets, according to Niron. Using it in electric motors could make EVs more affordable.
“We were drawn to invest in Niron by the impressive sustainability benefits that its Clean Earth Magnet technology offers for vehicles and the inherent scalability of their solution,” Adam Bazih, managing partner at Stellantis Ventures, said in a statement.
In addition to being rare earth free, when these types of magnets are used in the motors of EVs, engineers can achieve a weight reduction of nearly 40% with a size reduction of almost 36%, according to Magnequench, a company founded by GM that produced the more sustainable magnet material. The automaker, however, sold the company in 1995.
“Nearly 40 years ago, GM’s R&D team discovered and commercialized the world’s first high-powered, rare-earth permanent magnet material,” Anirvan Coomer, president of GM Ventures, said in a statement. “Niron’s Clean Earth Magnet could help GM make more affordable EVs for its customers out of more abundant materials.”