Will EVs remain dependant on Rare Earth Elements?

April 2023

There are growing concerns in the electric vehicle (EV) industry due to the motor and battery dependency on rare earth elements (REE) such as lithium and neodymium.

EV’s pave the way to a more environmentally friendly future but there are still concerns around the sourcing of certain components or materials within EVs. As the market for EVs grows rapidly the demand for magnetic materials and rare-earth materials like neodymium and lithium also increases.

The supply chain for REE are restricted by the geographical locations of the mines producing such materials. China accounts for the vast majority of worldwide production which has historically led to price volatility.

In addition to the price concerns, there are environmental concerns. REE are extracted from ores which can contain radioactive materials and the extracting process contains a huge amount of carcinogenic compounds. It has been estimated that processing 1 tonne of REE can produce up to 2,000 tonnes of toxic waste.

The Solution

There are efforts to reduce the rare-earth or at least heavy rare-earth content of the magnets. The majority of electric drive motors use permanent magnet to create energy but there are motors that do not require these magnets and REE’s. The induction motor utilizes an aluminium cage on its rotor, and was adopted by Tesla for its Model S and X. There is also a wound rotor configuration with copper windings on the rotor which has been adopted by Renault.

Tesla looks at EV motors with no REE

Tesla are looking to create a permanent magnet electric vehicle motor with zero rare earth elements in it. The misconception is that REE’s are in the batteries where as lithium-ion batteries typically contain zero rare earth elements. The rare earth elements in an EV are used in electric car motors rather than batteries. The most used REE is Neodymium, which is used in powerful magnets for the motors.

Tesla stated today that, between 2017 and 2022, it managed to reduce rare earth usage in their new Model 3 drive units by 25% as it increased the efficiency of the drive train. It now seems Tesla is trying to get the best of both worlds: a permanent magnet motor without the need for rare earth elements.

Will EVs remain dependant on Rare Earth Elements?



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