Tetrataenite, the space metal that could revolutionize modern technology

Meteorites may contain precious metals and geological clues to the formation of our planet. Several thousand years ago, our ancestors already valued them for their concentration of iron and nickel, which were used to forge tools and weapons. The most famous example is an iron dagger found in the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun.

Knowing this, we better understand why on June 29, 1966, the team of the National Museum of Natural History went to the French city of Saint-Severin (Charentes). He was supposed to take rock samples two days after the meteorite hit the pavement.

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More than two decades later, geologists examining these debris made an incredible discovery, the American magazine Popular Mechanics details in an article published on August 22. They realized that this ball of space rock contained a rare metal in tiny amounts: tetrathenite. The latter was identified more recently.

The specimen found on the meteorite had a diameter of about 40 micrometers: the width of a human hair, according to US media. However, it could revolutionize our current technology.

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Someday, this metal could power our nuclear submarines, our electric vehicles, our warplanes, our home appliances, or even our iPhones, see the info site for details.

The name tetratenite was given to it because of its shape and composition. This metal has a tetragonal structure composed of taenite. Such an alloy is obtained by combining nickel with iron. It is similar to the rare earth metals that are needed to make the powerful magnets that power our devices: electric car batteries, essential equipment for renewable energy infrastructure, and even some weapons.

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The rare earths are among (resources) vital to industry and technologyAriel Cohen, Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, replied analytical center American, specializing in international relations), in the columns of Popular Mechanics magazine. They are key components of computing and all new technologies that facilitate or support the energy transition.”

The problem is that these metals are only mined in certain places in the world. The work involved is difficult, dangerous and harmful to the environment. In addition, China, which controls 70% of world production, has decided to reduce the supply of metals and rare earth metals from the US and Europe in response to restrictions imposed by the latter on some chips and electronic components.

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Great Discovery at the University of Cambridge

Tetrataenite, despite its great promise, was considered too rare (because it only occurs on meteorites) to be useful…until last year. Lindsey Greer, professor of materials science at the University of Cambridge (England), and her colleagues announced in the fall of 2022 that they had succeeded in synthesizing the material in the laboratory, as Popular Mechanics explains.

To do this, experts heated some minerals to a temperature of about 1443°C. Then they managed to create a metal similar to that found in meteorites. The lab-grown variant has magnetic properties similar to rare earth minerals, including dysprosium, praseodymium, and neodymium. One day this magnetic tetratenite will be able to replace them to power our devices.

Lindsey Greer’s discovery came at just the right time. The demand for rare earth products is only growing. They are one of the most sought after resources on Earth, monthly events. According to the US Department of Energy, global demand is expected to increase by 400% over the next few decades.

On the same topic:

>>> Incredible terrestrial boomerang meteorite discovered in Morocco
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>>> From iron to rare earth metals: Kiruna, capital of the indigenous Sámi people in Sweden, at the center of mining activity

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