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Honda’s New Electric Motor Works Without Essential Rare-Earth Metals

Means less reliance on China for necessary resources

Honda has revealed a new electric motor for hybrid vehicles. Not only does it cost less to manufacture, it doesn't require the use of rare-earth metals in its magnets, according to a report from Automotive News. Heavy metals such as dysprosium and terbium are no longer needed. The biggest takeaway is that Honda won't be at the mercy of supply bottlenecks of rare-earth metals, particularly when it comes to dealing with China.

The first vehicle to use the new electric motor will be a hybrid variant of the Freed small minivan, which is based on the Fit. Honda co-developed its new electric motor with Japanese metal supplier Daido Steel Co., and the companies said in a joint release that the reduction of heavy rare-earth elements "has been one of the major challenges needing to be addressed." Honda and Daido used a new technique called hot deformation to make its magnets; instead of the more common sintering method. The new method apparently allows crystals within the magnets align into a finer structure, eliminating the need to use certain rare-earth metals.

Reducing dependence on rare-earth metals has been a key goals for automakers when developing electric motors for use in hybrids and EVs, according to AN. Limited resources and projected rising prices coupled with increased demand from the auto and electronics industries mean that the rare-earth metals market could grow at an annual rate of 14 percent and exceed $9 billion by 2019, according to a forecast by Technavio Research. "Rising global demand for rare earth metals has resulted in sharp increases in their prices due to a flat to negative supply growth from the key producing region,"said Technavio. "Japan has been sourcing rare earths and is aggressively trying to develop its own source of rare earth metals amid regional disputes with China."

China currently produces nearly all of the world's rare-earth metal output at about 90 percent, leaving Japan vulnerable after political and territorial disputes broke out between the neighboring countries. China stopped shipments of rare-earth metals to Japan after both countries fought over a group of islands.

The magnets used in the electric motor uses a light rare-earth metal called neodymium, which is more common and can be acquired from the U.S. and Australia, in addition to China. The electric motor's magnets are composed of 65 percent iron, 30 percent neodymium and 10 percent heavy rare-earth metals.

Daido Electronics Co., a subsidiary of Daido Steel, will start production of the new electric motors in August in a new factory in Japan and will use the partnership with Honda to enter the market for electric drive motor magnets for hybrids and EVs. Honda is expected to deploy in hybrid vehicles first, as engineers noted that application in EVs is less likely because the motors provide the only source of power and operate at higher temperatures.