Honda Motor Co. has developed a new electric motor for hybrid vehicles that tackles two top challenges in manufacturing the crucial drivetrain component: The high cost and uncertain supply of the rare-earth metals used in their powerful magnets.
The key is a new motor not using any heavy rare-earth metals, such as dysprosium or terbium. The breakthrough frees Honda from being at the mercy of supply bottlenecks of the sparsely distributed metals and increasing prices as demand for them soars.
Honda developed the new motor with Japanese metal supplier Daido Steel Co., the companies announced Tuesday.
Honda called the development the world’s first practical application of a high-performance hybrid vehicle magnet that doesn’t require heavy rare earths; typically needed to deliver heat resistance properties.
The new approach developed by Honda and Daido uses a hot deformation method to create the magnets, instead of the traditional sintering method.
The global rare-earth metals market is expected to exceed $9 billion by 2019, growing at an annual rate of over 14 percent, according to a forecast issued this year by Technavio Research.
China is the world’s key producer of rare-earth metals, accounting for as much as 90 percent of global output.
Japan’s automakers learned the hard way about dependence on China in 2010.
During a territorial dispute over a spray of islands claimed by China and Japan, Beijing decided to turn the economic screws on Japan by halting shipments of rare-earth metals. Japan backed down, shipments then magically resumed.
Heavy rare-earth metals account for as much as 10 percent of a motor magnet’s weight, while neodymium accounts for around 30 percent and iron around 65 percent.
Daido Electronics Co., a subsidiary of Daido Steel, will begin mass producing the new magnets in August at a newly built line in a factory in Japan. Daido said it will use that as a launch pad to enter the market making magnets for drive motors in hybrid vehicles.