Rare earths are neither rare nor earths, nor a rock band. They are a collection of elements that John called Achilles heel of the hybrid and electric vehicles and that Mat worried about in Goodbye Fossil Fuel Dependence, Hello Rare Earth Dependence!
But scarcity concentrates the mind, and according to the Financial Times, "US corporations are quietly investing in alternative technologies and retooling their manufacturing processes" to reduce demand.
General Electric says that the rare earths scare was overhyped.
"We have been looking at this for many years," says Steven Duclos, chief scientist and head of material sustainability at GE. "The headlines in the news of late were well-anticipated."
General Motors is also discounting their importance, and is developing magnets that use nanotech to reduce rare earths contents. (see Nanostructured Magnets Could Replace Rare Earth Magnets)
"Most designs today use generous amounts of rare earths," says Mr Savagian. [engineering director of electric machines] "If [REs] went away we might see the fuel economy and vehicle range of a hybrid drop by 2 to 4 per cent. They are really nice to have but they are not essential to the electrification of the automobile."
Perhaps everyone has over-reacted; perhaps this is all spin to reduce the prices. Or perhaps it is the appropriate response to increased costs and reduced supplies: you design better and use less.
More in the Financial Times
More on Rare Earths:
China Tightens Grasp on Rare Earth Metals Vital for Green Technologies
Goodbye Fossil Fuel Dependence, Hello Rare Earth Dependence!
China Will Cut Rare Earths Exports by 10% in 2011
China Bans Rare Earth Sales To Japan; Japan Starts Serious Recycling