With China and US on the verge of a trade war, the implications could be disastrous for companies and products that rely on rare earth materials.
Rare earths make up several chemical elements on the periodic table. While these materials aren’t actually rare, they are essential for developing a range of consumer products from cell phones to electric vehicles. The materials are also used in military defense applications such as missiles and smart bombs.
The only rare earth mine in the US filed for bankruptcy in 2015, resulting in China having a near monopoly. According to the US Geographical Survey, the US imported $120 million of rare earth metals in 2016, with 70 percent coming from China.
According the recent article from Victoria Bruce, “China’s secret trade war option: A rare earth embargo”, the impact of the US reliance on China’s metal supply. Below is short excerpt of the article.
“Rare earth metals are so critical and in so many defense components for guided missiles, smart bombs, targeting lasers, sonar, radar, night vision and high temperature resistant metals for military jet engines, that if China cut us off, the U.S. could not replace or build most of our advanced weapon systems.
These materials are also found in smart phones, small electric motors, sensors and catalysts in automobiles, computers, commercial aircraft and most green technology. If China embargoed these materials the U.S. would be forced to shut down all or most of our nation’s technology manufacturing assembly lines.
This single category of imports, with a global resource value of about $3 billion, becomes an essential input to about $7 trillion in value-added goods on a global basis. The US controls zero.”
So it caught our eye when Toyota recently announced plans to develop a new magnet for EVs that reduce rare earths by up to 50 percent.
According to Toyota, Neodymium magnets are used in various types of motors such as the high-output motors found in electrified vehicles, which will continue to see increase growth. The new magnet uses significantly less neodymium, a rare-earth element, and can be used in high-temperature conditions.
The new magnet doesn’t use terbium or dysprosium, which are rare earths necessary for highly heat-resistant neodymium magnets. A portion of the neodymium has been replaced with lanthanum and cerium, which are low-cost rare earths, reducing the amount of neodymium used in the magnet.
Toyota states that this new type of magnet is expected to be useful in expanding use of motors in various areas such as automobiles and robotics, as well as maintaining a balance between the supply and demand of valuable rare earth resources.
The rare earth market as well as magnet R&D are topics that will be well covered at MAGNETICS 2019, January 23-24 in Orlando.