Rare earth materials create enabling technologies which are found throughout Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEV), Plug-in HEV’s (PHEV), all-Electric Vehicles (EV) as well as in standard gasoline or diesel vehicles. Powerful neodymium-iron-boron (NdFeB) magnets are vital in the electric motor and regenerative braking systems found in the above electric vehicle categories and are also crucial to the numerous small motors that power adjustable seats, windshield wipers, power windows, power steering systems, and many other elements in modern vehicles. Virtually all HEVs, PHEVs, and EVs on the road today also rely on rare earths (primarily lanthanum) in the battery pack which stores energy normally wasted during coasting and braking, saving it until needed by the electric motor. The low weight of these motors also enables more fuel efficient transportation.
To estimate the positive impacts to our environment, the U.S. EPA assumes each HEV will have twice the mpg and only half the emissions of an equivalent gas or diesel powered vehicle. For every 100,000 HEV’s (such as the Toyota Prius) that replace existing vehicles, we save well over 1 million pounds of CO2 emissions per year and 4.8 million gallons of fuel.
HEVs, PHEVs, and EVs contain from 20 to 25 pounds of rare earths where a traditional vehicle can contain on the order of 10 pounds. Demand for energy-efficient electric vehicles is growing significantly. Global demand is projected to be 4 to 6 million vehicles per year by 2013, so the impact to the rare earth market could be staggering. Additional rare earth supply sources must come on line to support this growing industry.
*Toyota Prius is the trademark property of Toyota Motor Company