To save the planet, the Western world, especially the European Union, has decided to replace combustion vehicles with electric vehicles in the near future. However, this increases dependence on other countries – in Africa, Asia, or South America. The new problem could be a small and unexpected thing – magnets.
The battery is seen as a key element of electric cars. It is the most expensive of the whole car and determines its range. It takes a lot of precious metals to make it, especially lithium. Its extraction not only puts a strain on the environment but also increases Europe’s dependence on suppliers. The car companies have realized this and are trying to move battery production to Europe.
But there are more essential components. In addition to the much-discussed chips, there is now a debate about one small but very important part of the drive of electric cars, permanent magnets. These are an important part of the electric motor. Most of the production is currently controlled by China. Although the metals used to make magnets are not as rare as, say, lithium or cobalt, the raw material is not of very high quality, and it is expensive to process it for electric motors.
The Reuters analysis showed that European carmakers are looking for new sources or technologies to avoid using so many magnets and reduce dependence on China, which currently controls ninety percent of production. But replacing magnets has been hard enough so far. Electric cars with neodymium magnets can travel a longer distance on a single charge than those with conventional magnets.
The price of the most widely used raw material, neodymium dioxide, has doubled in world markets in the past year. According to Reuters, the U.S. Commerce Department even said in June that it was considering an investigation into the national security impact of neodymium magnet imports.
Your hair stands up in horror when deciding whether supplies will be adequate in the future and at what price, Ryan Castilloux of Canadian consultancy Adamas Intelligence told Reuters.
His firm expects global consumption of rare magnets to reach $15.7 billion by 2030, nearly four times this year’s figure. According to analysts, permanent magnets in hybrid and electric vehicle engines cost more than three hundred dollars per vehicle.
Most people drive less than a hundred kilometers a day, so you can have a less efficient motor for that, researcher Jürgen
Gassmann of the Fraunhofer Institute IWKS in Germany told Reuters. Even so, carmakers in the West have taken several measures. Some, such as Toyota, still use permanent magnets but have reduced their use of precious metals and developed a magnet that needs 20 to 50 percent less neodymium.
Others, such as BMW, have made extensive design changes. The German carmaker told Reuters it had redesigned its powertrain by combining the engine, electronics, and transmission into a single unit, reducing space and weight. “Our goal for the future is to avoid precious metals as much as possible and to become independent of potential risks in terms of cost, availability, and – of course – sustainability,” said Patrick Hudde, BMW’s vice president of raw materials management.