MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - An innovation made by a Minneapolis-based magnet company has just been named one of TIME’s Best Inventions of 2023.
TIME editors said for this year’s list of 200 life-changing innovations, they paid special attention to growing fields like AI, green energy and sustainability. That included the Clean Earth Magnet, made by Niron Magnetics, which is based in northeast Minneapolis.
"This has been like a 10-year journey for us. We're a Minnesota success story," said Jonathan Rowntree, the CEO of Niron Magnetics.
For the last decade, Niron Magnetics has been changing the magnet game. The company, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary, was born out of University of Minnesota Professor Jian-Ping Wang’s research.
"Magnets are really a key unsung hero of many different modern device and applications. Your cell phone alone probably has more than 10 applications of magnets. Audio – if you listen to speakers, they're driven by magnets," Rowntree said.
Rowntree said one of the biggest applications and growth areas is electric motors, which are used to help power electric vehicles and wind turbines.
In late 2022, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded Niron $17.5 million to ramp up production of the Clean Earth Magnet. Made from widely available iron and nitrogen, the product is the world's first powerful permanent magnet made free of rare-earth elements. Automaker Volvo has also signed on as a partner and provided funding.
"Our magnet technology is powerful. And it's potentially even more powerful than the magnets that are available today commercially," Rowntree explained.
He said currently, North America relies on rare earth elements that typically come from China, so the supply is expensive and unreliable.
"Because of the energy transition, there's this huge demand for magnets in applications, and so there won't be enough of those rare earth magnets to go around. Our technology helps solve that problem," Rowntree said. "Our magnets have 90% less impact on the environment compared to the traditional rare earth-based magnets. So [they’re] very important in terms of being able to supply those magnets for energy efficiency, but also reliability of supply."
The U.S. Department of Energy has said the magnets will help the White House reach its 2030 electric vehicle goal and 2030 offshore wind goal.
So far this year, Niron has hired more than 30 people, doubling its staff. Rowntree expects the company’s size to double again in 2024, creating more Minnesota jobs.
"As we grow, we are going to look for other opportunities to build a factory, and obviously, it would be great if we could build one here in Minnesota," Rowntree said.