[ロンドン/ベルリン １４日 ロイター] – In the automobile industry, there is a growing movement to create electric vehicle (EV) motors that use almost no rare earths. Rare earth production is dominated by China, and automakers and suppliers in Europe, the United States and Japan are all looking for alternatives to avoid dependence on China.
Until now, automakers have relied on motors with permanent magnets based on rare earth elements.
However, with the commercial availability of motors that do not use permanent magnets, which were once too large and inefficient, and motors with significantly reduced rare earth content, there is a movement to find alternatives. It’s accelerating.
Tesla (TSLA.O) attracted attention this year when it announced that it would not use rare earth elements in its next-generation EVs.
On the other hand, major suppliers such as General Motors (GM) (GM.N), Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), and major parts manufacturer BorgWarner (BWA.N) are using wire-wound fields that use electric current to generate magnetic fields. We are researching and developing motors with low or no rare earth content, such as EESM.
Some companies, like Nissan Motor Co. (7201.T), are going even further by adopting a dual strategy of developing newer EESM motors while simultaneously developing permanent magnet motors that gradually reduce rare earth content to zero.
China has a monopoly on the mining and processing of 17 types of rare earths, but foreign companies are working to loosen its grip.
China’s recent restrictions on exports of gallium and graphite, which are essential for the production of EVs, serve as a reminder of the risks of excessive dependence on China.
The EESM motor, developed by German parts manufacturer ZF, rivals the size and performance of permanent magnet motors, said Chief Technology Officer Ottmar Schaller. “This is an important contribution to moving us one step closer to independence from China,” Schaller said.
In addition to the issue of dependence on China, the refining of rare earths such as neodymium and dysprosium uses solvents and produces toxic waste, which violates sustainability goals.
“If we succeed, we will have a much more sustainable product than we currently have,” says an industry executive.
Manufacturers such as BMW (BMWG.DE) have explained that they have already succeeded in developing it after years of research. “It’s not a home run, but it works very well without rare earths,” said Uwe Duke, who is in charge of developing the company’s EESM motor for next-generation EVs.
The average EV permanent magnet motor uses about 600 grams of neodymium. The price of neodymium has been volatile, currently at about $125 per kilogram, down from last year’s peak of about $223, but significantly higher than the $65 price in 2020.
German parts manufacturer Vitesco (VTSCn.DE) has designed an EESM motor for France’s Renault (RENA.PA) and plans to release a new version in 2026. Company executives said alternatives that don’t use rare earths could avoid price fluctuations.
Some companies, such as American startup Nylon Magnetics, are developing permanent magnets that do not use rare earths.
Tesla’s announcement that it would not use rare earths “wake up buyers to the fact that we don’t need rare earths to make EV magnets,” said Nylon CEO Jonathan Rowntree.
Nissan uses an EESM motor in its crossover EV “Ariya.” Shunji Oki, expert leader of the Powertrain and EV Electric Technology Development Division, said the company is developing both better EESM motors and permanent magnets that will phase out the use of rare earths.
James Edmondson, an analyst at consultancy IDTechEx, said the rise in rare earth prices sent automakers scrambling to find alternatives, but now that prices have fallen they are taking a wait-and-see approach. He said he was watching developments in China and whether governments would take measures, such as the US Inflation Control Act, to curb the use of Chinese rare earths.
“That’s why automakers have other technologies on standby,” he said.
IDTechEx predicts that the global market share of rare earth permanent magnet motors will decline slightly over the next 10 years, but will remain above 70%. This is because Chinese EV manufacturers are not forced to reduce their use of rare earths. However, its share in Europe is expected to be close to 50%.
The issues are not limited to the motor.
In some EVs, about a third of the rare earths are used in the speakers of the sound system. British company Warwick Acoustics has developed a rare earth-free speaker that is 90% lighter and more energy efficient than conventional products.
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