Japanese automaker Honda has co-produced the world’s first magnet for hybrid and electric cars that requires no heavy rare-earth metals.
The quest to find an alternative to heavy rare-earth elements in magnet manufacturing came after a 2010 dispute, during which China temporarily banned exports of rare-earth minerals. Even before that, however, Honda had been working to reduce the use of the materials in its manufacturing, as China began cutting back export quotas starting in 2006.
The motor is not completely without rare-earth elements. It still uses the light rare-earth element neodymium. But neodymium can be sourced from countries other than just China. Carmakers use neodymium magnets because they have the highest magnetic force of any magnet. Demand for these magnets is expected to soar in coming years as more consumers buy all-electric and hybrid vehicles.
Magnet manufacturers usually add heavy rare-earth metals such as dysprosium or terbium in order for the magnet to have the high heat-resistance properties needed to operate in a car motor. But the reliance on these elements adds price volatility and supply chain uncertainty, especially when they can only be sourced from one location.
Research firm Technavio estimates that the rare-earth metals market will grow at 14 percent annually and will be worth more than $9 billion by 2019. There are 17 elements considered to fall into the rare-earth category. The growth in the global market is largely fueled by the need for magnets for hybrid vehicles and electronics manufacturing.
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