As hybrid cars and electric vehicles increase in market share, rare earth metals like neodymium - a soft metal which is used to create the ultra-strong magnets used in electric motors - are becoming increasingly expensive and sought-after.
But it’s not just demand causing a rise in prices: China, home to one of the largest neodymium mining projects in the world, is keen to use its rare earth metals to hold the world to ransom with unpredictable supply and price hikes.
Enter Toyota. According to a report by the Associated Press, the world’s largest automaker is working on a new type of motor which does not use any rare-earth metals.
An electric motor created without rare earth metals would dramatically reduce production costs and by association, the cost of electric vehicles.
A typical mining operation
Toyota’s work isn’t ground-breaking. Back in October, the EETimes reported that Japanese scientists working for government-backed New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization and the Hokkaido University were working on just a project.
The use of neodymium in motors has enabled motors to increase in power and decrease in size and weight over the years. Many electric drag racing cars use high power DC motors which contain ultra-strong magnets to give huge amounts of torque in a small package
While there's more to a strong motor than just a magnet they would not be as powerful as it is without the addition of neodymium magnets.
With prices of neodymium still rising and exports from China dropping by 30 percent in 2010 as it keeps more of the metals for its own burgeoning electric car industry, Toyota’s work is perfectly timed.
Understandably, Toyota hasn’t unveiled any specifics of how the breakthrough works but has hinted that the motor it is developing will have the same size and power output as a motor using rare-earth metals.
While Toyota’s stance on electric vehicles has not always been rosy, the automaker recently announced an expansion to its world-leading Prius hybrid-electric brand.
Toyota Motor Corporation president Akio Toyoda, at Tesla stand, 2011 Detroit Auto Show
Last year Toyota also announced it was working alongside Tesla Motors to relaunch a modern version of its iconic RAV4 EV as well as launch another all-electric vehicle in 2012.
[Toyota] via [AP]