SEONG-AN Aims to Create One and Only Value Chain for Rare Earth Permanent Magnets, Crucial Element for Robotics, EV, and UAM

5 Jan 2024

Money Today 2023.09.22 09:53

Original source:

“By strengthening cooperation with U.S. company MP Materials, we plan to produce high-specification rare earth permanent magnets at our Daegu factory that can be mounted on everything from robots to EV, to UAM (Urban Air Mobility), which is attracting attention as a means of urban transportation in the near future.”

From a recent interview with Money Today, SEONG-AN’s CEO Jun Y. Lee said that he is in the process of obtaining a permit with Daegu City to change the factory in the Geomdan Industrial Complex in Buk-gu, Daegu into a high-specification rare earth (NdPr, Neodymium - Praseodymium) permanent magnet factory, and that full-scale expansion and renovation work will begin at the end of this year.

SEONG-AN plans to invest a total of KRW 20 billion to build a high-specification rare earth permanent magnet (N-45UH, M-48UH, N-52UH) plant with an annual capacity of 1,000 tons. Currently, orders for machinery and equipment are in progress from Japanese and Chinese companies.

Lee said, "Once the partial demolition and expansion of the factory and sequential equipment introduction are completed, prototype production is expected to be possible in the first quarter of 2025." He added, "We already completed securing and verifying the rare earth raw material supply line, our own metal supply chain, and manufacturing technology, which are required for permanent magnet manufacturing."

Once the magnet plant is completed, SEONG-AN will become the only company in Korea capable of providing a stable supply of rare earth raw materials to manufacturing rare earth permanent magnets, which are essential for electric vehicles, robots, and urban air mobility (UAM) motors. Compared to existing permanent magnets, rare earth permanent magnets have an average maximum magnetic force that is more than two times higher and their electrical efficiency coercivity is more than 1.5 times higher, so demand is rapidly increasing.

Neodymium permanent magnets, which have the strongest magnetic force among magnets, have the characteristic of rapidly losing magnetism as the temperature increases. Accordingly, heavy rare earths such as Dysprosium (Dy) and Terbium (Tb) are used to maintain coercivity even at high temperatures. However, Terbium is about 20 times more expensive than Neodymium, which is acting as a cost burden.

SEONG-AN plans to create highly cost-competitive rare earth permanent magnets by minimizing the use of heavy rare earth elements. SEONG-AN’s Vice President Kenji Konishi, former Managing Director of JLMAG Rare Earths Ganzhou, China, is in charge of overall magnet manufacturing technology.

In particular, the content of Dy and Tb in rare earth permanent magnets is limited in small amounts, but they account for a very high proportion of the total cost. In addition, as China virtually dominates the production of heavy rare earths, it is expected that demand for permanent magnets using American light rare earths will increase while reducing the use of these heavy rare earths.

Jun Young Lee, CEO of SEONG-AN

SEONG-AN plans to carry out the rare earth permanent magnet business in a two-track manner. △NdPr metallization, which involves receiving rare earth oxides and producing them into metal, △Manufacturing of permanent magnets through processes such as alloy treatment, hydrogen treatment, magnetic field pressing, sintering, grain boundary diffusion process, and surface treatment.

Mr. Lee said, “We plan to prove SEONG-AN’s rare earth value chain by increasing sales through NdPr metallization before the operation of the magnet plant,” and added, “By the fourth quarter of next year, we plan to produce block-shaped permanent magnets and supply them to overseas small and medium-sized magnet manufacturers.”

He emphasized that SEONG-AN receives rare earth raw materials from MP Materials, the only rare earth producer in the United States. MP Materials supplies 15% of global rare earths, including NdPr.

On July 31st, SEONG-AN signed a purchase contract with MP Materials for NdPr oxide, a raw material. It was decided to purchase minimum of 240 tons per year, and the purchase amount can be increased to a maximum of 2,000 tons per year starting next year. From SEONG-AN's perspective, it is possible to secure steady raw materials, but it can also be manufactured with NdPr metal and then resold, creating a stable sales base.

Lee said that discussions are underway with MP Materials with the goal of signing a tolling agreement within the year. SEONG-AN is conducting component tests at four domestic and foreign analysis companies on prototypes produced at its Vietnamese Metal Plant, which is SEONG-AN’s NdPr metal manufacturing base. As a result of inductively coupled plasma (ICP) analysis conducted in Ningbo, China, all 12 element mass ratios were judged to have passed the delivery standards.

Jun Y. Lee plans to visit the United States in October with the results of ingredient tests from four locations and have further discussions with MP Materials. An inspection of MP Materials' SEONG-AN’s Vietnam Metal Plant is also scheduled.

Mr. Lee said, “SEONG-AN has permanent magnet manufacturing technology and know-how, and the best technical team in the industry.” He added, “As the movement to replace Chinese permanent magnets is active among Western countries, we are currently creating overseas sales networks in many countries.” He added, “We are also steadily progressing with discussions on establishing joint ventures with companies in the United States, Europe, and India to produce local magnets.”