Toyota is Working on Electric Motors that Don't Require Chinese Rare Earths

toyota plug in hybrid photo

Photo: Michael Graham Richard
Necessity is the Mother of Invention
Rare earth metals, which aren't that rare, are used to make the electric motors in hybrid and electric cars, among other things. As recently mentioned, China is big far the world's biggest producer of these elements and it has been putting restrictions on exports lately, pushing the re-opening of a U.S. rare earths mine. In the meantime, to avoid being dependent on China, Toyota has started to develop electric motors that don't use rare earth elements at all, sidestepping the problem nicely.
toyota logo photo

Photo: Michael Graham Richard
All electric motors rely on magnets to make them work. The new motor Toyota is working on is based on the very common and inexpensive induction motor, found in such devices as kitchen mixers. Induction motors use electromagnets--magnets that only have their magnetic attraction when power is applied to them.

Most motors used in electric and hybrid cars today use a different type of motor that relies on permanent magnets. These magnets always have a magnetic field [...]

"The technology that would allow us not to use the magnets and yet to make a smaller size, high-performance motor will come soon," said Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota's global chief engineer.

"We currently have such a motor, but controlling the motor is rather difficult," he said.

Mr. Uchiyamada wouldn't say when the motor would be introduced. (source)

The reason why these induction motors haven't been used so far is because they are bigger and less efficient than the types that use permanent magnets. If Toyota can make advanced inductions motors that have specs good enough for HEV and EVs, it could not only help break the dependency on China, but also reduce the cost of its vehicles.

Who knows, maybe China's squeeze on the rare earths market will encourage the development of even better motors for the next generation of electric vehicles.

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