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QEPrize goes to creator of strongest permanent magnet

Published: 02/02/2022

The 2022 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering (QEPrize) has been awarded to Dr Masato Sagawa for his work on the discovery, development and global commercialisation of the sintered Neodymium Iron Boron (Nd-Fe-B) permanent magnet. This is the world’s most powerful permanent magnet, today used in countless applications including in-ear headphones, MRI machines, on the Mars Rover and in energy-saving technologies such as electric cars and wind turbines. The QEPrize is engineering’s most prestigious accolade and recognises the critical role that engineering plays in global society.

Lord Browne of Madingley, Chairman of the QEPrize Foundation said:

“This innovation is inside almost every electric vehicle, and its application ranges from the smartphone in your pocket to offshore wind turbines providing clean energy – a material that is supporting our way of life today and our way of life in the future. That's the essence of engineering; producing and delivering for humanity again and again. Dr Masato Sagawa's permanent magnet is the embodiment of that very essence”.

Dr Sagawa’s breakthrough innovation was creating a new compound, formed by replacing scarce and expensive cobalt and samarium with more abundant and cheaper iron and neodymium, at the same time introducing boron to improve the magnetic properties – the first step in delivering high performance to a mass market.

Dr Sagawa then led further research and development in the 1980s and early 1990s to improve heat resistance by adding dysprosium (Dy). As a result, it was possible to develop high-volume manufacturing techniques and successfully commercialise the innovation. For even wider applications, Dr Sagawa continued to develop novel techniques for reducing the amount of dysprosium required, or even eliminating its use to help preserve natural resources.

The resulting new mass-market magnet has almost doubled the previous best performance, successfully turning the Nd-Fe-B magnets into a viable industrial material with wide applications, with a market estimated to be worth more than $19.3 billion (over £88.3 billion) by 2026. Demonstrating the magnet’s impact on the entire economy, it is essential to the value chain of 8.5 million electric vehicles and hybrid electric vehicles in use globally.

Accepting the award Dr Masato Sagawa said:

"Receiving the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering is a special moment for me, as this prestigious prize encapsulates what engineering is all about. The purpose of engineering is to benefit humankind, and this award inspires engineers to keep working towards their goals. Engineering is essential to solving today’s most pressing issues, and this includes tackling climate change. While neodymium magnets have a wide range of applications, one of the most important is its use for climate economy products, such as electric vehicles and wind turbines. I am therefore honoured to be part of the engineering profession’s contribution towards the fight against climate change, and equally as honoured to receive this unique prize.”  

Professor Dame Lynn Gladden, Chair of the QEPrize Judging Panel said:

“The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering is a true celebration of the achievements of engineering worldwide, and how they benefit the planet. It is a fantastic vehicle for engaging people of all ages to demonstrate how engineering impacts our daily life. This year’s prize is awarded to Dr Sagawa and his innovation of sintered neodymium magnets – an innovation which has had such an impact both on the way we live now, and how we will live in the future, especially as we look towards a greener one.”

At the QEPrize presentation ceremony later this year, Dr Sagawa will receive a unique trophy, designed by 2022 Create the Trophy winner Anshika Agarwal, aged 17 from India.

The QEPrize will now be awarded annually, rather than every two years, reflecting the increasing pace of engineering innovation and offering additional opportunities to recognise excellence across the whole field of engineering.

For more information see the QEPrize website.