Rare Earth Elements Propel Electric Motors’ Costs
Munich – September 07th, 2011
Skyrocketing prices for rare earths are sparking real demand for resource-sparing electric motors to enable e-mobility.
Rare earths are indispensable to many high-tech sectors, including energy-efficient, compact electric vehicle motors. With China capping production and export quotas, prices have risen sharply, for example, by as much as 800 percent for magnets. This could seriously impede e-mobility’s momentum. With no alternative sources on the near horizon, the only way is to satisfy demand is with innovative technologies.
Lanthanum, europium, neodymium and 14 further metals make up the family of rare earths. They are critical to several high-tech sectors. The automotive industry, for instance, uses tens of thousands tons of these raw materials every year. Advanced developments in military and optical applications, as well as green technologies in the energy sector, depend on these sought-after metals. Technology-intensive materials and components such as optical glasses and permanent magnets benefit from the critical properties that these elements bring to high-tech products, markedly improving performance and making them more competitive.
Rare earths’ role in e-mobility
Rare earths figure prominently in batteries, electric motors, and generators built for e-mobility applications1. A case in point is neodymium, also known as NdFeB. It accounts for more than 25 percent of the materials that go into high-performance magnets for electric motors and generators. Estimates put the rare earth content of a hybrid vehicle at 20 kg. Without these metals, motors and generators would fail to achieve efficiency factors exceeding 90 percent. What’s more, it would take far larger and heavier machines to satisfy the escalating performance demands for the motors, generators and auxiliary batteries that power electric and hybrid vehicles.
E-mobility’s dependence on these raw materials is so great that impending shortages could stall its advance³. Demand for rare earths tripled over the last decade, rising from 40,000 to 120,000 tons. In the years ahead, it will take as much as 200,000 tons to meet global needs and sustain the growth projected for green technologies. With many deposits remaining unexploited, there is no shortage of raw materials in the ground. The supply situation, however, is critical.