Toyota’s Working On Motor Free Of Rare Earth Elements

If you follow the commodities market, you may have noticed that prices for rare earth elements have been going up and up and up. China, which controls 95% of the world’s access to rare earths, has limited exports, thus driving up prices. Many automakers, including Toyota, rely on rare earths for their hybrid and electric vehicles. Toyota has been working on a new type of electric motor free of rare earths, and recently announced that such a motor could come to market as soon as two years from now.

Today’s electric cars are incredibly complicated, high-tech devices that rely heavily on rare earth metals with names like neodymium and dyprosium. These rare earth elements are in fact not all that rare, though finding and mining them for a profit is an energy intensive process that requires massive open mines that are far from environmentally friendly. China controls 95% of the world’s rare earth metals market, and has repeatedly threatened to cease or severely curtail exports even are prices for rare earths skyrocket. This is making already expensive cars even more expensive.

Toyota’s response has been to develop a new type of electric motor that does not rely on rare earth elements. We’ve reported on Toyota’s plans to build such a motor before, almost a year ago to the day, actually. But while the automaker has not set a timeline for deployment of this motor, a source close to the Toyota reports that the motor could be brought to market as soon as two years from now if the price of rare earths does not come down. What is different about this motor, I don’t know, though it could have to do with nanocomposite magnets, which have better magnetic force to weight ratios, though still rely on a smaller amount of rare earth elements to work.

The real key to success is the continued high price of rare earths, and being able to bring this motor to market without increasing the cost of EV’s and hybrids. If the technology proves fruitful, it could also force China to allow for more exportation, thus bringing the cost of rare earth elements down to Earth once more. I doubt Toyota is the only company working on new electric motors, though they have been the most vocal about it, perhaps hoping to cow China into submission.

If so, it hasn’t worked yet. Better try harder, Toyota.

Source: Reuters | Image: Thomas Sereda via Shutterstock

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.