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Rare-Earth Free Motors Developed
Apr 12, 2012
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Hitachi Ltd. developed motor technology with comparable efficiency to "rare earth" motors without using rare earth materials, according to UPI and numerous media reports. The first motors using the technology will be for industrial fans and pumps, but the company said it plans to leverage the technology for appliance motors as well as cars and other applications.

Rare earth materials are used in a range of high-efficiency motors but the price of the materials has gone up as China, the top global supplier, has manipulated availability. In the late 1980s it began large-scale exports of the materials at costs too low for most suppliers outside China to compete with. Worldwide rare earth mine closures giving China as much as 90% of the global market. But 2010 and 2011 saw China exports shrink, causing prices to rise quickly. China's Ministry of Commerce has said 2012 exports would remain on par with 2011, which is likely to keep prices high. This spurred the 2012 filing of a World Trade Organization compliant filed against China by the United States, European Union, and Japan. The case has yet to be decided.

But China's manipulation of the market may result in the loss of much of its rare earth market dominance - eventually. Forcing prices to inflate has made it economically feasible for rare earth mines outside China to re-open, including in the United States and Australia.

In addition to wider availability, China is spurring industry to come up with technology that avoids use of rare earth materials, such as the Hitachi motor. Media reports say the new Hitachi technology uses more common and generally available amorphous metals but manage to achieve the same efficiency levels as motors with magnets made of rare earth materials. The first industrial motors using the technology may be commercially available as early as the first half of 2014.

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