What are the rare earths? Are elements of the periodic table is vital in the construction and production of electrical and electronic components. Are common in the production of hybrid cars or smartphones, without going any further. We do not speak of the lithium, manganese or nickel: respond to names like lanthanum, promethium or dysprosium. Honda has just announced a breakthrough in the production of electric motors: the first electric thruster for hybrid vehicles produced without rare earths in its composition.
China owns 90% of the world’s reserves of rare earths, creating uncertainties about the offer in the future.
The problems associated with rare earths are not few. In the first place, the lack of certainty surrounding its production and supply. 90% of the world’s reserves are in the hands of a single country: China. In the last crisis, trade between China and Japan – arising from disputes over islands in the east China Sea – the country of the rising sun had to bend to the demands of chinese, which had blocked the supply to Japan of rare earths. tensions between China and Japan give special significance to this development.
Another consideration is the environmental damage. The processes of mining rare earths are not at all respectful of the environment and often require processes of chemical separation that generate waste, whose tracks will last for decades – even centuries – in the environment of the mining areas. With the increase in the production of hybrid and electric vehicles, the demand for rare earths has not made up. These price increases affect the final price of the hybrid and electric.
Up to 10% of the weight of an electric motor are rare-earth short supply, concentrated in a single provider.
Prices that are charged to the final customer, of course. The innovation of Honda affects the magnets of the electric motors, and has been carried out of the hand of Daido Electronics. The japanese manufacturer and his supplier have developed a new productive process that by means of the deformation in hot, achieves the same result and material properties the sintering process traditional. The microscopic crystals of the magnet are aligned in a precise way, eliminating the need to use rare earths in their production.
Being completely transparent, the electric motor developed by Honda still uses neodymium – a rare earth more abundant – but this mineral can also be purchased in the U.S. or Australia. Daido Electronics has opened a new factory to produce these electric motors and will soon be employed by other manufacturers. The first vehicle to equip this engine will be the Honda Freed, a strange hybrid crossover – think of a Honda Jazz with gigantism – which is sold only in Japan.