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Search for rare-earth-free motors accelerates

22 January, 2011

Researchers based in the UK are helping Japanese car-makers to develop motors for electric vehicles that do not rely on rare-earth materials. The researchers, at IMRA Europe in Sussex, are working with colleagues in their Japanese parent company, Aisin Seiki, to develop motors that they plan to offer to Japanese car-makers, including Toyota which is also working on its own rare-earth-free machines.

These developments follow news of further export restrictions by China, which currently dominates the global supply of rare-earth-materials. In December, the Chinese government cut its rare-earth export quotas for the first half of 2011 by 35%. This follows a 72% cut in the second half of 2010, which has caused prices of some of the materials to double.

At present, Aisin Seiki does not make motors, but it is Japan’s largest supplier of automotive transmission systems. It wants to be prepared in case sales of conventional transmission systems decline as car-makers move towards electric and hybrid vehicles.

Meanwhile, Toyota is working on its own designs for automotive induction motors that do not rely on rare-earth permanent magnets. These motors are said to be lighter and more efficient than the permanent magnet motors it is currently using.

Toyota’s Prius hybrid vehicle contains around 1kg of neodymium – a rare-earth material that has quadrupled in price over the past year. Toyota announced last month that it plans to add 11 new models to the Prius family (including, possibly, the above concept vehicle) within two years.

Another player in this market is the automotive supplier Continental which has reportedly developed a rare-earth-free motor that will be used in an undisclosed electric vehicle due to be launched in Europe later this year.




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