Toyota develops new motor using less rare earth minerals

Japanese automaker Toyota has announced the development of new motors for electric vehicles which use less rare earth minerals in their construction.

Rare earth minerals are vulnerable to supply disruption and demand spikes. Image courtesy of the US Department of Agriculture
Rare earth minerals are vulnerable to supply disruption and demand spikes. Image courtesy of the US Department of Agriculture

Current generation motors make significant use of these minerals in magnets which enable critical parts of the motor’s function.

Rare earth minerals, which not actually ‘rare’ in nature, are energy intensive and environmentally damaging to extract, primarily due to the low concentrations they are found in.

Most nations have significant deposits of these minerals, however, almost all of the world’s rare earth mineral extraction currently takes place in China, due to their low energy prices, and lax environmental regulations.

As a result of this, the prices of these minerals have seen large fluctuations and spikes, as demand often outstrips supply. For this reason, manufacturers like Toyota would like the minimize the amount which they need for their vehicles.

Specifically, the company has developed a new kind of magnet for their motors that uses 50% less of the rare earth metal Neodymium while still boasting the same level of performance.

The company stated in a press release that this would help maintain “a balance between the supply and demand of valuable rare earth resources”.

Toyota fears that increasing production of electric vehicles will create a supply crunch for this metal, and cause a disruptive price spike.

“An increase in electric car production will raise the need for motors, which will result in higher demand for neodymium down the line,” Akira Kato, general project manager at Toyota’s advanced R&D and engineering company, told reporters at a briefing in Tokyo according to Reuters.

“If we continue to use neodymium at this pace we’ll eventually experience a supply shortage … so we wanted to come up with technology which would help conserve neodymium stocks.”

The company says that the new motors can be used in a wide range of roles including electrified vehicle drive motors and generators, electric power steering, robots, and various household appliances.

Toyota expects that the magnets will be put to use in electric power steering motors for automobiles and other applications in the first half of the 2020s.