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Toyota Tries New Metal to Meet Demand for Hybrids

BY: Alex Perrone

toyota factory

Toyota Motor Corp is going to try out metal. No, they aren’t out shredding guitars and playing at clubs, what we mean is that they’ve uncovered a way to reduce the amount of a key rare earth metal used in magnets for electric car motors. They can reduce them by around 20 percent. That would actually lower the cost of producing electric cars and potentially minimize the risk of a supply shortage of materials.

Toyota recently had a major press announcement that they were able to develop a new magnet. This magnet would actually which replaces some of the neodymium, which is a rare earth metal used in the world’s most powerful permanent magnets. Instead you’d be able to use more abundant and cheaper lanthanum and cerium. Within 10 years you could see these magnets in electric vehicle motors regularly.

Increased Demand in Hybrids has Driven Toyota to Find Alternative Production Supplies

The demand and production of hybrid and other electric cars is steadily increasing. In response, automakers and electronics companies have been researching and developing new ways to make high-powered magnets. The goal is to use less rare earth metals to both reduce costs and also worry less about possible fluctuations in natural supply.

Back in 2010 there was a temporary export ban of neodymium by major supplier China. This was due to a territorial dispute with Japan. However, the main takeaway was that automakers felt the periodic supply shortages as they were still dependent on the ready availability on these materials.

That is why the expected increase in electric car production will raise the need for these special motors. If automakers we’re looking for alternatives they’d have to worry more about higher demand for neodymium than there is possibly a supply for. Toyota hasn’t found a full alternative but they have managed to crack the code for technology that would help conserve neodymium stocks globally.

Hybrid Drivetrain Research Has Improved Vastly Since the First Generation Toyota Prius

toyota hybrid

Right now the magnets used in most automobiles to operate motors for everything from hybrid and other electric drivetrains to power steering systems utilize around 30 percent of the rare earth elements neodymium, terbium and dysprosium.

As a result, automakers besides Toyota, such as Honda Motor Co Ltd researched and discovered a means to eliminate dysprosium and terbium from the equation all together. Those rare earth metals cost around $400 and $900 per kilogram. Meanwhile neodymium costs around $100 per kilogram.

So in the end, Toyota has a means to cut out the more expensive metals from the magnets but unlike Honda they also managed to figure out a way to reduce the amount of neodymium in favor of lanthanum and cerium. Those respectively cost around $5-$7 per kilogram.

Toyota execs and representatives would not go into greater detail about their cost reductions. However they also say that Toyota is set to replace up to half of the neodymium used in magnets for motors which operate conventional vehicle function. That means things like power windows with lanthanum and cerium who use 20 percent for electric motor magnets.

Toyota has always been on the cutting edge and this major development might not sound as cool as the return of a Supra (fingers crossed) but it is nonetheless a major stride in vehicle engineering. What are your thoughts? Are you still hot on hybrids or are you a total gas guzzler for life? Sound off in the comments section below to let us know what you think and if you would be interested in one of these new Toyota hybrids!

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