A neodymium magnet (also known as NdFeB, NIB or Neo magnet), the most widely used type of rare-earth magnet, is a permanent magnet made from an alloy of neodymium, iron and boron to form the Nd2Fe14B tetragonal crystalline structure. Developed in 1982 by General Motors and Sumitomo Special Metals, neodymium magnets are the strongest type of permanent magnet commercially available. They have replaced other types of magnets in the many applications in modern products that require strong permanent magnets, such as motors in cordless tools, hard disk drives and magnetic fasteners.
Neodymium magnets are graded according to their maximum energy product, which relates to the magnetic flux output per unit volume. Higher values indicate stronger magnets and range from N35 up to N52. Letters following the grade indicate maximum operating temperatures (often the Curie temperature), which range from M (up to 100 degrees Celsius) to EH (200 degrees Celsius).
In 1982, General Motors (GM) and Sumitomo Special Metals discovered the Nd2Fe14B compound. The research was initially driven by the high raw materials cost of SmCo permanent magnets, which had been developed earlier. GM focused on the development of melt-spun nanocrystalline NdFeB magnets, while Sumitomo developed full-density sintered Nd2Fe14B magnets.
GM commercialized its inventions of isotropic Neo powder, bonded Neo magnets, and the related production processes by founding Magnequench in 1986 (Magnequench has since become part of Neo Materials Technology, Inc., which later merged into Molycorp). The company supplied melt-spun Nd2Fe14B powder to bonded magnet manufacturers.
The Sumitomo facility became part of the Hitachi Corporation, and currently manufactures and licenses other companies to produce sintered NdFeB magnets. Hitachi holds more than 600 patents covering neodymium magnets.
Chinese manufacturers have become a dominant force in neodymium magnet production, based on their control of much of the world's sources of rare earth ores.
The United States Department of Energy has identified a need to find substitutes for rare earth metals in permanent magnet technology, and has begun funding such research. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy has sponsored a Rare Earth Alternatives in Critical Technologies (REACT) program, to develop alternative materials. In 2011, ARPA-E awarded 31.6 million dollars to fund Rare-Earth Substitute projects.