January 20, 2011
Toyota And Aisin Avoiding Rare Earth Elements

Faced with China's increasing restrictions on rare earth elements exports (which aren't really that rare, but I digress), both Toyota and its supplier Aisin are developing electric induction motors that do not use rare earths.

Aisin’s research, being conducted jointly with its research unit IMRA Europe in Brighton, England, is separate from Toyota’s own in-house development of an induction motor that doesn’t need rare-earth minerals, Toyama said.

General Motors is also working on induction motors and Continental AG says it has a motor going into a European electric car this year that contains no REEs.

Continental AG of Germany, one of the world's largest auto parts makers, said it already has developed a rare-earth-free motor that will be used in an undisclosed electric car due out in Europe this year. This motor uses a variation of an electric motor often found in power plants.

In the comments of previous posts we debated the rare earth elements (REEs) shortages and their impacts on electric cars. My guess is that the car companies will engineer around the REEs.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 January 20 10:04 PM  Energy Electric Cars

BioBob said at January 20, 2011 11:09 PM:

LOL -- I can just imagine the Chinese reaction: Oops ...

Bruce said at January 21, 2011 9:28 AM:

"which aren't really that rare, but I digress"

Yeah. Major car companies make massive changes to technology based on "imaginary" shortages.

"China's government cut export quotas for the first half of 2011 by 35 percent last month. That follows a 72 percent reduction in the second half of 2010, causing the price of some of the metals to more than double."

There is a literal ton of REE's in one Wind Turbine.

Randall Parker said at January 21, 2011 8:16 PM:


Necessity is the mother of invention, as Ben Franklin pointed out.

Rare: I am speaking in terms of their presence in the crust of the Earth. Toyota, GM, et. al. know that even if more mines come on line they take years to develop before they start producing. Profits and losses are made in the short term.

Wolf-Dog said at January 21, 2011 9:38 PM:

If the new magnets can really be made without REEs, then this will be a very important breakthrough for electric cars. I was extremely worried that the shortage of REEs would slow down the mass-production of electric cars. By 2015 the batteries will become substantially better and cheaper, but this new dependence of the electric car motors on REEs was a major obstacle.

Bruce said at January 21, 2011 11:16 PM:

Hmmm. Ferrite magnets are sometimes made with Strontium.

"China was the top producer of strontium in 2007, with over two-thirds world share"

John.in Georgiaj said at January 22, 2011 8:08 AM:

And we can thank the EPA for shutting down the REE processing plants here in America and now China, if memory serves me well, is in control of processing 80% of the world wide processing market. Good job government; Your foresight is incomprehensible.

Mike K said at January 22, 2011 11:06 AM:

Unless electricity generation, by nuclear or gas or coal, increases and the power grid gets upgraded rapidly, those cars won't be going anywhere.

BBM said at January 22, 2011 11:49 AM:

Yes Bruce. And as I recall, one of the key arguments against your "peak" REE argument was that it it quite easy to make electric motors (and generators) that don't need them.

MikeO said at January 22, 2011 12:07 PM:

Batteries are another issue. And where does the lithium all come from?....

Buckley said at January 22, 2011 12:44 PM:

"Top producer" doesn't mean the most exploitable reserves, it simply means that China allows expoitation of the reserves it has.

The US has insisted on shooting itself in the economic head in the name of environmentalism for decades. That comes at a cost.

willis said at January 22, 2011 2:23 PM:

"There is a literal ton of REE's in one Wind Turbine."

My Wind Turbine only uses a figurative ton.

Bruce said at January 22, 2011 5:23 PM:

BBM, its not that you can't make motors with ferrite magnets instead of REE, its just that the motors will be bigger and heavier.

"7 times the performance of ferrite magnets in total energy per volume"

"The biggest differences between ferrite magnets and rare earth magnets is that rare earth magnets are much stronger. The intensity of magnetization and the coercive force are elements determining the performance of permanent magnets. Since rare earth magnets contain iron and cobalt in the state not containing oxygen, their magnetization is large. In addition, magnetization of rare earth magnets has a strong force (coercive force) aligning the magnetism in one direction, so they are much stronger magnets than ferrite magnets. Since they have about 7 times the performance of ferrite magnets in total energy per volume, rare earth magnets are used for powerful magnetic circuits that could not be conceived of until now, space-saving magnetic circuits, etc."


If ferrite magnet motors are commercialized, we will be able to compare them to motors with rare earth magnets.

And Randall, Continental AG is looking hard for REE's

"Giving up the use of rare earths could mean heavier and bigger parts for Europe’s second-largest auto-parts supplier, she said."

"While the elements aren’t as rare in nature as the name implies, they are difficult to find in profitable concentrations, expensive for Western producers to extract and are often laced with radioactive elements."


Curt said at January 22, 2011 6:10 PM:

I've been working with all of these types of motors for 25 years now, including in electric/hybrid vehicles, and wind turbine generators, so I think I'll step in.

Bruce, you say, "If ferrite magnet motors are commercialized, we will be able to compare them to motors with rare earth magnets." Ferrite-magnet motors are the oldest of the permanent-magnet motors. Until the 1980s, they were the only type of permanent-magnet motors commercially available. In high-performance applications, they were supplanted first by motors with samarium-cobalt magnets, then by motors with neodymium-iron-boron magnets. Ferrite motors are still cheaper, but bigger and heavier, than REE-magnet motors of equivalent ratings.

AC induction motors require no permanent magnet materials of any kind, let alone REEs. The magnetic field of the rotor is created by induced currents (hence the motor name), not permanent magnet materials. They have been around since the 19th century, as they were invented by Nikolai Tesla. They are made overwhelmingly of iron, aluminum, and copper -- very little of anything else. Toyota and Aisin may be doing some optimizing design, but they aren't doing any fundamental research in this.

AC induction motors are usually the motor of choice for pure (non-hybrid) electric vehicles, regardless of the availability and price of REEs. Because the rotor magnetic field is created by induced current, its strength can be dynamically controlled, which means its torque/speed characteristics can be electronically controlled, so no mechanical transmission is needed (the article alludes to this). The EV1 used, and the Tesla uses, AC induction motors (and no transmission) for this reason.

Bruce said at January 22, 2011 6:16 PM:

My mistake. Two tons in a wind turbine. Not one. And the Prius uses Lnathanum in its NimH batteries.

" In certain applications, two tons of rare earth magnets are required in the permanent magnet generator that goes on top of the turbine. If the permanent magnet is two tons, then 28% of that, or 560 lbs, is neodymium."

"There are two components within hybrid vehicles that we have to keep in mind when we think of the critical importance of rare earths. One is the nickel metal hydride battery, which uses lanthanum metal; and the other is the use of permanent rare earth magnets, which primarily use neodymium.

I think everybody is predicting that the battery side of the hybrid vehicle is likely going to change to lithium ion in the next 5, 10 or 15 years. However, until the lithium ion technology is fully developed, the nickel metal hydride batteries will be indispensable. Moreover, the one thing that cannot change in electric vehicles or hybrid vehicles is the use of permanent rare earth magnets in the motors and generators. There is simply no substitute for those magnets."


"Earlier versions of wind turbine technology relied on electromagnets, which use copper coils fed with electricity from the generator itself. While effective, these generators were bogged down with excess weight. Companies such as Siemens (SI) and General Electric (GE) later developed turbines that use direct drive generators using permanent magnets. The motors turn at the same speed as the rotors and therefore have to be much larger to develop the same power. Yet the weight of the larger unit is significantly less. By using neodymium in the magnets, the weight of the generator can be further reduced. According to experts at Holland’s Delft University of Technology, a 15-mm-thick segment of permanent magnets can generate the same magnetic field as a 10- to 15-cm section of copper coils."


Randall Parker said at January 22, 2011 6:39 PM:


Thanks for your comments. I was not aware of the different needs for EV versus HEV? I am guessing that PHEV electric motor needs are more like EV electric motor needs since PHEV cars operate in pure EV mode for the first x miles and do so at much higher speeds than HEVs do. Does that make sense to you?

If EV and PHEV motors do not need REEs that puts a very different view on the REE situation.


Your information about wind turbine REE usage is also very helpful. Sounds like REEs are a lot more important for wind turbines than for EVs.

Luckily, we need EVs a lot more than we need wind turbines. We can recharge PHEV and EV cars with nuclear reactors. I wonder what the rising prices of REEs are doing to prices for wind turbines.

NiMH versus lithium: Curiously, the distinction there is also chiefly between HEV versus EV/PHEV. The EV/PHEV cars are coming with lithium batteries. Though some of those lithium battery chemistries use a variety of other elements. I'm not clear on what elements go into Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf batteries aside from lithium.

BTW, anyone notice that Nissan is way late delivering Leafs? Production is not scaling up quickly and people with orders are getting informed of delays of several months.

Mike said at January 22, 2011 8:05 PM:

""which aren't really that rare, but I digress"

Yeah. Major car companies make massive changes to technology based on "imaginary" shortages."

They aren't rare in the ground, which doesn't meant that right now China's mines don't produce the majority. But mines elsewhere can be re-started or created if China stops exporting.

QQBoss said at January 22, 2011 8:29 PM:

Do you mind if I say screw batteries for automotive applications where 8-10 hour charge times to drive for an hour or two make little sense?
Graphene-based super-capacitors, hey, weren't they discussed here (if not, they should have been)? What percentage of those are REEs?

Article about it:

Press release:

Hopefully a free link to the actual paper:

As an added bonus, think about the probable results of a car accident with a large LiIon battery pack versus these capacitors.

Bruce said at January 23, 2011 8:57 AM:

"But mines elsewhere can be re-started or created if China stops exporting."

In 8 years possibly. The problem is there may be only 3-4 more years of Chinese exports available.

"Our concern isn't the Chinese and their production capabilities, our concern is the Chinese and their consumption capabilities. Many experts have predicted that the Chinese will be internally consuming many of those rare earths, if not all of them, by about 2014."


Curt said at January 23, 2011 10:24 AM:

Randall :

In parallel hybrids at least, the motor's torque must pass thru a transmission anyway, to combine it with the engine's torque. So going to an induction motor will not save you the cost, complexity, etc. of a transmission. But in a pure electric, or series hybrid, the output of the motor can go directly to the drive train. In this case, the "software transmission" capabilities of an induction motor outweigh its disadvantages.

You are correct that lithium batteries are the only technology presently that can provide a reasonable range for pure electric vehicles. I point out that the Tesla uses an induction motor and lithium battery, neither of which uses REEs.

Bruce said at January 23, 2011 11:32 AM:

Lithium isn't that common ... or easy to mine.

"For the sake of debate let’s assume that the global production of lithium can be quadrupled in the next 10 years. There is no evidence that this is underway or planned, but let’s assume anyway that it is going to happen. Let’s now assume further that every bit of the increase will go to produce lithium-ion batteries for cars. This will give us 75,000 metric tons of lithium, calculated as lithium metal, to be used annually to make car batteries by 2020. 75,000 metric tons is 75,000,000 kg.

This means that in 2020 the global car industry will have the resources of lithium to build 75,000,000/15 = 5,000,000 extended range plug-in hybrids of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid type"


"Production of lithium has problems keeping up with the rising demand for lithium applications. Especially the use of lithium in batteries like lithium- ion batteries puts pressure on lithium production. Only four countries are responsible for almost all of today’s estimated lithium reserves. Making Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and China big players in the thirst for lithium.

The recent uprise of electrical cars, hybrid cars and decentralized energy production like solar and wind power asks for bigger lithium productions. Potential deployment of millions of electric cars demand an exponentially growing lithium production. Current estimations that production of lithium will double in the next five years may not be enough to satisfy the need for lithium."


So ... a quadrupling of lithium production would allow 5 million cars per year and a doubling of production might not even be possible in 5 years.

Engineer-Poet said at January 23, 2011 5:16 PM:

I knew when I saw this post title that Bruce would be all over it with his propaganda.

The hilarious part is that rare earths aren't necessary even in the Prius battery.  Nickel metal hydride uses lanthanum in the hydride storage, but NiMH is a development stemming from nickel-hydrogen batteries.  If someone bothered to package a nickel-hydrogen battery in a similar form factor (perhaps with an external hydrogen tank), you could both eliminate the rare earths and be able to read the battery state of charge with a pressure gauge.

Then Bruce gets into real hearsay.  From his article:

At that meeting the technical managers of both companies agreed that a figure of 1 kilogram of lithium, calculated, as I recall, as metallic weight equivalent of lithium, per kilowatt hour of battery storage capacity was correct, in general and on average, for the production of RSBs for the electrification of vehicles.
This is not only hearsay (third or fourth hand, and from people who are a long way from the battery experts), but self-serving for both companies.  SQM has every incentive to pump up projected demand to increase its stock price.  GM, of course, was a virulently anti-battery company at the time (2007) and only made the Volt when the Obama administration demanded it as a condition of the rescue.  GM wanted to downplay potential sales of electric vehicles as much as SQM wanted to play up sales of lithium.  Both would agree to a ridiculously high number for their own purposes.  Bruce does the same when he attributes much more to his second article than is actually said.

In reality, one atom of lithium carries one electron.  At 6.941 g/mol, a gram carries 3.86 Ah of charge; at a nominal 3.6 volts, this is 13.9 Wh/g or about 72 grams per kWh.  There can be more lithium in the electrode and electrolyte materials, but that 72 g/kWh does all the work.  The high-capacity electrode materials under development using materials like graphene and silicon have no lithium in their empty state.

Domestic US supplies of lithium are anything but short.  Salton Sea geothermal brines carry about 16,000 tpa of lithium in addition to 30,000 tpa of zinc (which is a raw material for zinc-air cells).  At 100 g/kWh, a Volt would need about 1.6 kg; the Salton Sea wells would be enough to build 10 million per year.  The Salton Sea itself has about 200 ppm of lithium.

Lithium is a fairly small part of the cost of a Li-ion cell, so increasing the price to get resources which are currently non-economic won't even affect the downward price trend very much.

Bruce said at January 23, 2011 8:13 PM:

Grow up EP. Just because people don't buy into your deranged fantasies doesn't make them propagandists.

I mean ... less than 2 months ago you and other insisted there was no REE shortage and suddenly the REE shortage is all over the news and it appears China won't even be exporting any within 4 years.

If EP says there is no shortage of Lithium then you can take it to the bank there is a real significant shortage and prices will be going up.

In reality, propagandists like EP need to convince people that the amount of lithium needed is unrealistically low.

The amount estimated below by Argonne Laboritories is a lot more than EP propagandizes.

"In a more detailed presentation from ANL (“Lithium Ion Battery Recycling Issues”, Linda Gaines, Argonne National Laboratory, 21/5/09), estimates are presented varying between 113 g and 246 g of Lithium (600 g and 1.3 kg LCE) per kWh for various cathode types of batteries all with a graphite anode; a Lithium titanate spinel anode battery is shown as having a high requirement of 423 g Li (2.2 kg LCE) per kWh."


Micha Elyi said at January 24, 2011 4:11 AM:

Meanwhile, progress plods along toward ultra-high energy density capacitors to replace batteries...

Engineer-Poet said at January 24, 2011 4:58 AM:

I know GM started on the Volt in '06 (rumor is the first PHEV was actually a Saab, but GM management insisted that the charging socket be covered at the auto show where that car was displayed).  GM also decided to kill the Volt when sales collapsed in '08, but the government part of "Government Motors" insisted that it go forward.

Bruce lies again.  I never claimed there wasn't an issue with rare earths, I said we could make motors and batteries without them.

Science Buzz buys the lithium shortage line, but admits that Zn-air and NaNiCl are lithium-free alternatives.

Bruce said at January 24, 2011 7:59 AM:

"Analysis of lithium's geological resource base shows that there is insufficient economically recoverable lithium available in the Earth's crust to sustain Electric Vehicle manufacture in the volumes required, based solely on Li Ion batteries."

Thanks for the link EP. I was right as usual. You were wrong.

Engineer-Poet said at January 24, 2011 1:01 PM:

Yeah, whatever you say, Bruce... ain't solipsism great?

In my world, the Salton Sea is 7.3 million acre-feet (about 9 billion cubic meters).  At 200 ppm lithium, that's roughly 1.8 million tons of lithium there in the water alone.  Below the Salton there are solid salt deposits which certainly contain a lot more lithium.

Let's take Bruce's claim of 1 kg/kWh as a worst-case, and the 25 kWh Leaf battery as the average.  That's 40 Leafs per ton of lithium or 72 million Leaf's worth in the Salton Sea alone (roughly 100 million Volts).

When they've powered the 100 millionth PHEV out of Salton Sea, further US mining might go exactly nowhere because S. Korea may soon be producing 20,000 to 100,000 tpa of Li2CO3 from seawater.  It's rather hard to compete with an ocean containing 230 billion tons of lithium.

Bruce said at January 24, 2011 7:59 PM:

Getting Lithium out is not easy.

"All are lithium containing brines, which present as immense salt “flats’ under the surface of which are highly concentrated liquids, brines. The manner in which such brines are processed is to create vast ponds which are allowed to evaporate naturally using solar irradiation (i.e., sunlight) as the drying agent. SQM told me that for their Atacama works this step takes 18 months!

It is simply not, and never will be, practical to move mountains of slush through drying kilns which would need to be powered by immense fossil fuel burning or nuclear plants."

"For Bolivia’s high magnesium brines there is no practical process known at this time to remove enough magnesium, even on a large scale basis, so that it would not “poison” the lithium produced in the sense that the lithium would contain so much magnesium that it would be ineffective as a battery electrode. Thus for use in making batteries this material could be infinitely expensive to process to “battery grade” and thus useless."


"Mitsubishi has estimated that demand for lithium — which now costs less than a dollar per kilogram — will outstrip supply as early as 2015, and Jaskula told us last year that he expected demand to begin driving lithium prices up in the next 10-15 years. But high costs make it unlikely that schemes to pull lithium from seawater will succeed in the near future, Jaskula said."

“If the price of lithium does go high enough, it theoretically is possible to extract lithium from seawater,” Brian Jaskula, the U.S. Geologicical Survey’s mineral commodity specialist on lithium told us in an email today. ”Just about every element in the periodic table is available in seawater. It’s just that its a very expensive way of extracting metals and minerals,” he explained."


Oh oh. Not enough Lithium in 4 years.

How long before EP's Pie in the Sky projects take off? Decades? Never?

Nick G said at January 24, 2011 8:22 PM:


What makes you believe that GM decided to kill the Volt when sales collapsed in '08?

Engineer-Poet said at January 25, 2011 3:31 AM:

I recall a news report from just before the government takeover which stated GM was cancelling the Volt project, followed by news that it was back on shortly after the takeover.  I can't find this now; the search results are swamped by articles on the cancellation of a related engine plant (not the car itself).

Nick G said at January 25, 2011 10:24 AM:


I've been following the Volt very closely from it's inception, and I don't recall such a report. There was a report by a "car czar" during the bankruptcy process that noted that the Volt would not contribute directly to profits in the very short term, but it was careful to not draw any larger conclusions about the value of the Volt to GM.

If that did happen, it's a data point in favor of government intervention.

th said at January 25, 2011 3:53 PM:

nick g, here's something on the volt you might find interesting, "a generation behind toyota", more toyota and honda witchhunts on the way, while NPR is willing to risk losing all those prius owners contributions, they will still maintain their integrity fighting the good fight for the commune.


Nick G said at January 25, 2011 4:34 PM:


Yes, that's the report I had in mind. The report says:

"GM is at least one generation behind Toyota on advanced, “green” powertrain development. In an attempt to leapfrog Toyota, GM has devoted significant resources to the Chevy Volt. While the Volt holds promise, it is currently projected to be much more expensive than its gasoline-fueled peers and will likely need substantial reductions in manufacturing cost in order to become commercially viable."

In other words, the Chevy Volt will put GM a generation ahead of Toyota, but the Volt's price will have to come down.

Randall Parker said at January 25, 2011 8:02 PM:


Regards lithium cost and lithium battery cost: What we need to know is what fraction of lithium battery cost is lithium cost.

More generally, what are the costs that go into making a lithium battery? Where are the cost reductions supposed to come from?

Engineer-Poet said at January 25, 2011 8:36 PM:

More stuff to discomfit Bruce:

http://www.sequence-omega.net/2009/05/15/lithium-carbonate-supplies-abound/ (770,000 tons in King's Valley, NV alone)

I'm not doing well finding Li2CO3 futures prices, but I found ceramics supply site quoting $6.30/lb in 500-lb or larger lots; the price was apparently about $2/lb in 1999.  The second report states "At the current list price, the lithium carbonate for the batteries in an EV like the Altra would cost about $100".  Quadruple it and you still don't have a deal-killer (and it's 100% recyclable).  Note that the report assumes lithium cobalt oxide cathodes, which are thermally unstable and not being considered.

Bruce said at January 27, 2011 11:45 AM:

"Western Lithium USA Corporation (“Western Lithium” or the “Company”, TSX-V: WLC; PK: WLCDF) has engaged Tetra Tech, Inc. (“Tetra Tech”, NASDAQ: TTEK) to complete a pre-feasibility study at its lithium deposit in Nevada, USA. "


Pre-feasibility study?


Ha ha ha ha ...

By the way, the esimate of the amount of Lithium:

"Based on a 1983 non NI43-101 compliant report prepared by Chevron Resources (the "Chevron Report"). Western Lithium cautions readers not to place undue reliance on the content and conclusions of the Chevron Report, which was not prepared in compliance with National Instrument 43-101."

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