China has had a profitable near monopoly on rare earth elements for the past decade. However, Honda and Daido Steel, both Japanese companies, are working to reduce their reliance on Chinese resources, successfully developing a hybrid battery free of heavy rare earth metals.
Watch out China (and Tesla).
Back in 2010, Japan detained a Chinese fisherman for fishing in disputed territory. With tensions rising, China escalated the situation by halting exports of rare earth elements to Japan. These minerals are required for the production of the electronics that form the backbone of the Japanese economy. Though the “unofficial ban” was only temporary, it certainly showed the potential dangers of such a reliance.
While rare earth elements aren’t actually rare, they are both costly and environmentally hazardous to mine. China has managed to seize a virtual monopoly over them, thanks to low labor costs and loose environmental regulations, meaning that they now supply 97% of the world’s rare earth elements.
In a joint statement, the two companies revealed that they achieved a practical application of a hot deformed neodymium magnet, which is a key component in a car motor. It contains no dysprosium and terbium, which are heavy metals, but did use neodymium, which is a light metal found in North America, China and Australia.
Overall, this reduced the cost by 10% while making them nearly 8% lighter as well, Reuters reports. This technology will be applied to Honda’s new FREED minivan, which is scheduled to go on sale this fall.
“This technology will lower our costs and reduce our exposure to price fluctuations,” a Honda official told reporters.
This is the first step to hybrid cars for Honda. The company is looking to develop gasoline-electric hybrids, plug-in hybrids, battery-electric and fuel cell vehicles in the future.
You know who would love to buy some of those? China.
By Sarah Lin
[Images via Daido Steel]