Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Shortage of Rare Metals for Hybrids Is Overblown

No one said there was a shortage. The question is geopolitical and strategic. It is the same situation with lithium. There isn't a shortage in the foreseeable future. In Li, The potential problem arises from the fact that Evo Morales controls half the world's known reserves of lithium. The calculus of signing agreements with him is closer to that required when dealing with Hugo Chavez than that required when dealing with the Japanese.
From HybridCars:

Toyota Could Gain Advantage

China is tightening grip on its rare earth metals, which may derail production of hybrid and electric cars, according to The New York Times and Bloomberg. Hybrid cars use rare metals, especially neodymium for magnets in electric motors, and lanthanum in nickel metal hydride batteries.

Prabhakar Patil, CEO of battery-maker Compact Power and former chief engineer of Ford’s hybrid program, sees the rare earth supply concern as “not very high,” when compared to other factors that could limit production of hybrids and electric cars. Patil believes that if supplies or prices for rare earth metals become an issue, car companies will work around a shortage by using induction motors and power electronics. He admits that there will be a penalty in terms of size, cost, and efficiency of motors. “But it is not a show stopper,” Patil told HybridCars.com.

Officials from Toyota, by far the biggest manufacturer of hybrid cars, believe rare earth materials are a concern, but not a major or immediate one. “This is something that we have to address as more manufacturing of electric vehicles and hybrids come on line,” said Jana Hartline Toyota’s environmental communication manager, in an interview with HybridCars.com. “Does that mean next week? No. It becomes a legitimate thing to consider when you talk about production in the order of millions over several years.”

Recent media reports also described the process of mining the rare earth metals as damaging to the environment. Hartline said, “Mining in any way, shape or form is never an environmentally friendly process. That’s the nature of the beast.” She said that Toyota is continually looking for sourcing and manufacturing processes that are less damaging to the environment.

Planning Required

Jack Lifton, an independent Michigan-based strategic metals expert, believes there could be “a gap” in hybrid and electric car production in the future—but only if new North American production of rare earth metals does not come on board as expected, and auto engineers fail to plan for a shift to magnets and motors that require fewer or no rare earth metals....MORE