Researchers from the National University of Science and Technology MISiS (NUST MISiS) Engineering Center for Industrial Technologies, Moscow, Russia, report that they have developed an innovative process for the production of magnetic materials and permanent magnets at a reduced cost. The technology was initially developed to allow the production of affordable and efficient magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) devices for medical use, but could have applications in many sectors.
Magnetic resonance imaging is one of the most effective diagnostic methods in modern medicine. However, according to NUST MISiS, the average cost of one analysis with the use of MRI costs between 4,000 and 12,000 Rubles ($70 to $210), depending on the part of the body being scanned and the clinic at which the procedure is carried out. According to the developers’ estimates, the cost of an analysis with the new MRI technology will be half of what it is now.
Due to its technical nature, an MRI machine can have ultra-weak, weak, medium, strong, and super-strong magnetic fields. The highest quality pictures are taken using superconducting magnetic systems, which generate very strong magnetic fields. However, these machines are difficult to make and, more importantly, expensive to operate. NUST MISiS found that MRI scans were inaccessible to most patients, as clinics and hospitals lacked the financial resources to use them very often.
Working jointly with industrial partners from the Research and Production Association Magneton, NUST MISiS scientists state that they have developed a prototype of an economically and environmentally-friendly low field magnetic resonance imaging system, based on magnetic materials and components produced in Russia.
“We have developed an innovative technology for the production of low-cost hard-magnetic materials and permanent magnets manufactured from alloys of rare, domestic earth metals and their compounds, including the ones obtained in the processing of industrial waste magnetic production,” explained Evgeny Gorelikov, Project Head, Candidate of Political Sciences and Deputy Director of NUST MISiS Engineering Center for Industrial Technologies.
“During the production of raw materials for permanent magnets we have managed to reduce their cost by 1.5 times through the use of industrial waste magnetic production and cheap alloys of rare earth metals. The use of new soft magnetic materials has allowed us to develop magnetic conductors for a magnetic system of the scanner with low loss while maintaining high values of magnetisation saturation (more than 2 T).”
“All this allowed us to design and reduce the weight of permanent magnets used in the design of magnetic systems by almost 30%, and thus to reduce the cost of the devices,” he concluded. The cryogenic technology, liquid nitrogen, helium fluid and water required to run MRIs using superconducting magnets or electromagnets are not required to run the new MRI machine, state the researchers. The power consumption of the new scanner will be less than 1 kW, potentially making it possible to power it using renewable energy sources such as solar panels and wind turbines.
China is currently the world’s main producer of rare earth metals and rare-earth permanent magnets, accounting for around 80% of global supply. The use of domestically gathered magnetic components to produce the new MRI scanner is expected to allow the Russian medical industry a production stream independent of imports. According to NUST MSiS, the project’s implementation will provide a practical opportunity to create a competitive industrial production of magnetic materials at reduced costs.