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Honda Unveils First Hybrid Motor Without Heavy Rare Earth Metals (engadget.com) 108

An anonymous reader writes: Honda has unveiled its new hybrid motor this week that doesn't use heavy rare earth metals like dysprosium and terbium -- though it still does contain neodymium. The motor was co-developed alongside Daido Steel and will use their magnets in replace of the rare earth metals because they cost 10 percent less and weigh 8 percent less. Honda is the first automaker to develop a hybrid motor that doesn't use heavy rare earth metals. The company says the new engines will reduce its reliance on the metals that are primarily supplied by China. They're expected to make their debut in the compact Freed minivan this fall, a vehicle that is already on the road in Asia.
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Honda Unveils First Hybrid Motor Without Heavy Rare Earth Metals

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  • The company says the new engines will reduce its reliance on the metals that are primarily supplied by China.

    This is pure lip service. Guess where they get all their steel that composes 80% of the car from? Yeah, it's all coming from China anyway, so this is meaningless.

    • Dear Brain Master (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      China is in a special position with rare earth elements because, while not quite a monopoly, for some of the metals it is very, very close. They are an extremely important supplier of several rare earth elements.

      Steel? You can get that from just about any country.

      • Re:Dear Brain Master (Score:5, Informative)

        by bhcompy ( 1877290 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2016 @06:08PM (#52500893)
        Rare earth metals aren't all that rare. It's just that other countries don't want to destroy their environments mining them.
        • Planned takeover (Score:5, Insightful)

          by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2016 @06:28PM (#52500995)

          Rare earth metals aren't all that rare. It's just that other countries don't want to destroy their environments mining them.

          Partly that and partly that China has made it uneconomical to mine them elsewhere. Not by accident either. China's government has strategically supported this with subsidies and cheap labor.

          • by MercTech ( 46455 )

            I can see that. Many countries resist having massive strip mines. The countries that don't give a moldy fig for the health of the peasants are economically positioned to roll with plenty of massive strip mine operations. Keeping your costs down can go a long way to controlling a market.

            • Keeping your costs down can go a long way to controlling a market.

              China doesn't even have to work too hard to keep their costs down because the main competition for rare earths mining is the USA which has some of the largest deposits and labor costs in the US are substantially higher than in China. Since you can't really automate things substantially AND the US has stiffer environmental regulations basically the US would have to subsidize mining operations to get the mines operational again. Probably in violation of WTO rules. For now it's uneconomical to mine them ou

        • Re:Dear Brain Master (Score:4, Informative)

          by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2016 @09:14PM (#52501747) Journal
          Actually, it is not a big deal to mine them. The problem is, that China is manipulating this market in a HUGE way. Moly Corp in America has a clean means of mining. BUT, when they invested loads of money into it, then China dumped REE on the market and plummetted the price. Sadly, the west allowed it. And Moly Corp booted the old CEO, and brought in a Canadian who was very friendly with China. So, he shut down EVERYTHING in the west and pushed it all to CHina. Now, they are back in control, while this Canadian CEO is worth 100s' of millions over this BS.
        • Re:Dear Brain Master (Score:5, Interesting)

          by blindseer ( 891256 ) <blindseer@earthlink . n et> on Wednesday July 13, 2016 @01:22AM (#52502431)

          I have learned that there is a different problem. Certainly mining disturbs the earth, and extracting the metals from the ore is a process requiring some nasty chemicals and lots of energy, but we've learned how to do both without damaging the environment. The real problem is that of regulation.

          Rare earth elements tend to be found in the same places as thorium. Current regulations in the USA treat thorium as a weapon grade material since, in theory, thorium can be used to produce uranium-233 which, in theory, can be used to produce a "Little Boy" style bomb. There's a couple problems with that. Producing uranium from thorium requires neutron bombardment and, if the process does not remove the uranium from the neutron source quickly enough, separation of the different uranium isotopes produced. This is not an easy process and would take considerable effort to produce. The other problem with using uranium-233 in a weapon is that no one has successfully demonstrated it as workable. There was one such bomb produced and it fizzled out.

          Unlike uranium, which occurs naturally in different isotopes, thorium exists naturally in only one isotope. There is no such thing as "enriched" thorium since it is already better than 99.9% pure out of the ground. There are some traces of other isotopes but only so much that it is barely detectable.

          Because the mining of rare earths produces tails containing everything but the rare earths that are extracted the natural thorium in the tails is almost always of a concentration that it would be considered high level nuclear waste. No one wants to pay to dispose of this since that would destroy their profits. China doesn't worry about this, they just pile up the thorium ore.

          It's perfectly safe to pile up the thorium ore because it is not water soluble, it won't contaminate the water. It's quite dense, so it does not tend to blow away in the wind. It's a heavy element but it's not fissile, so it's not going to go critical and glow in the dark. It's radioactive but the half life is more than 14 billion years, meaning it's radioactive in a more theoretical sense. It's an alpha particle emitter, so when it does decay the radiation emitted is stopped by the skin, clothing, or a short distance through the air.

          Thorium as a commonly used element for many years to make gas lamp mantles because it made a very intense and white light when heated. It also made some interesting alloys and was used to make optical lenses. This ended when the federal government thought that someone might use thorium to make a bomb, even though their own experiments proved it to be a poor fuel to build a bomb.

          So, here we are. We buy our rare earth elements from China where they pile up the thorium ore like worthless and inert sand, because that is what it is. We don't dare do the same here because someone might take that sand and put it in a nuclear reactor to make weapon grade uranium, because if you have enough enriched uranium to make a reactor then... my head hurts just trying to follow the logic.

          The laws in the USA on nuclear materials are stupid. Because of our own stupid laws we cannot mine our own rare earth elements.

          We could make that thorium useful, not just for gas lamp mantles, but to produce energy. Thorium can be put in a reactor to make uranium but the uranium is worthless for bombs. What it is useful for is producing energy. An experimental thorium reactor was built decades ago but the technology was abandoned. If we could have some sane laws on radioactive materials then we'd not only solve our rare earth supply problem but our energy supply problem.

          To those that think that a thorium reactor would produce a bunch of nuclear waste, or potentially blow up like Chernobyl, need to look up the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor, LFTR. The acronym is often pronounced as "lifter". Look it up, you will be impressed.

          • Good post, well thought out.

            There's just this part:

            ...our energy supply problem.

            Just wanted to point out that one peoples' "problem" is another set of peoples' "tools for control of people".

            The "energy problem" could be effectively "solved" in a few years and without raping the environment or climate, but that destroys a means of control and profit for those at the very top (and I don't necessarily mean politicians/heads-of-State) so the status quo is maintained as much as possible. Any changes are in small, incremental steps and stri

          • And for those who don't feel like hitting wiki...

            The liquid fluoride thorium reactor (acronym LFTR; often pronounced lifter) is a type of molten salt reactor. LFTRs use the thorium fuel cycle with a fluoride-based, molten, liquid salt for fuel. Molten-salt-fueled reactors (MSRs) supply the nuclear fuel in the form of a molten salt mixture. They should not be confused with molten salt-cooled high temperature reactors (fluoride high-temperature reactors, FHRs) that use a solid fuel.[1] Molten salt reactors,

      • Re:Dear Brain Master (Score:5, Informative)

        by alvinrod ( 889928 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2016 @07:10PM (#52501225)
        It's not due to supply, but rather the cost of extraction. Both the United States and Australia (among others) have good supplies of many rare earth metals (as well as reserves of some rare metals that China has very little of such as Tantalum) but due to China's devil may care attitude towards environmental regulations, they can extract theirs at far lower costs than other countries, and if anyone else were attempt to start, there's no doubt that China would cut prices temporarily to destroy the competition.

        Even if we were mining it ourselves, we'd ship most of it to China anyhow as that's where most of it would be put into manufacturing components that require those elements.
        • The major component of concern on the waste produced from rare earth mining is thorium. Thorium is not an environmental hazard since it's biologically inert, is insoluble in water, is dense enough it doesn't really blow around in the wind, it just sits there. It is mildly radioactive but then so much stuff in the world is radioactive that tossing it in hole in the ground is a perfectly acceptable way to dispose of it.

          The US government treats thorium as if it is weapon grade material. In theory it can be

        • by MercTech ( 46455 )

          And one of the silly things in the U.S. are the horrendous restrictions on people "processing hazardous waste". We really have a huge stockpile of trans platinum metals left in the piles of toxic mine tailings in the Rockies. If you want to do an extraction from mine tailings for mineral sthat were of no interest when the tailings were first dug, you are considered to be repossessing hazardous waste and get hit with a huge number of restrictions that would not apply if you were mining fresh rock for

      • by Rei ( 128717 )

        This whole story is silly to begin with. Regardless of what Honda tends to put in their hybrids, makers of electric cars tend to use AC induction motors which don't use any rare earth metals. There's no rare earths used anywhere in the Model S, for example.

        (and more to the point, you can get rare earths from just about any country too - they're not actually that rare (just dispersed). But China produces them the cheapest)

        • There's no rare earths used anywhere in the Model S, for example.

          I very much doubt that's true. I would expect some rare earth use in the phosphors of the LED lights, for example. The amount used is probably pretty trivial since the main motors don't use them.

      • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
        Nope. Australia has more rare earth metals than China does. China just sells them at cost, to prop up the industries that use them, mainly centered in China. If the price increased, Australia would start mining them again, and in large quantities.

        "Rare" as in rare earth metals doesn't mean "rare" as in the dictionary definition. "Rare" means "not found in veins or other highly concentrated areas". The actual proportion of
    • Yeah, but unlike the heavy stuff, steel is pretty easy to get from other sources. Right now China's is cheaper, it only makes sense to buy it from there.

      • not really. By buying from China, you will ALWAYS pay more than what China will. Not just for shipping, but CHina also puts an EXPORT tariffs on these, and will make sure that the steel sold in China is a fraction of the price elsewhere. That means that you can not compete directly with China, UNLESS you control the vertical manufacturing.
        • ?

          The only reason to buy steel from China is if it's cheaper than other sources. Their domestic market or tariffs are irrelevant if you buy from somebody else, say, the US.

          Or is the Honda factory in China?

    • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2016 @06:26PM (#52500985)

      This is pure lip service. Guess where they get all their steel that composes 80% of the car from? Yeah, it's all coming from China anyway, so this is meaningless.

      First, steel does not compose 80% of a vehicle. The number is somewhere around 55% [nist.gov] on average though it obviously varies by vehicle and it is about 25% of the cost of the vehicle. Second, Japanese car manufacturers do get some steel from China but they also get a very substantial amount domestically. Japan has a fairly robust domestic steel industry including 2 of the 10 biggest steel makers by volume in the world. There are also numerous steel suppliers who have no production in China at all. It's definitely not "all coming from China". Third, "the metals that are primarily supplied by China" they are talking about are rare earth elements, not comparatively common metals like steel. Don't conflate the two. Japan could in principle source all their steel from somewhere other than China if they wanted to. For rare earths, China is basically the only game in town right now. Totally different markets.

      • First, steel does not compose 80% of a vehicle. The number is somewhere around 55% on average though it obviously varies by vehicle and it is about 25% of the cost of the vehicle. Second, Japanese car manufacturers do get some steel from China but they also get a very substantial amount domestically. Japan has a fairly robust domestic steel industry including 2 of the 10 biggest steel makers by volume in the world.

        Last time I checked, Japanese cars were made primarily out of recycled American cars. But that's probably outdated now, because American cars are no longer being made out of mild steel, and that's what made using them as material attractive. When you recycle steel, it gets harder and more brittle. You can add things to it to avoid that, but you don't have to if that's what you want anyway. That's one of the great things about Aluminum; it doesn't do that. It's more expensive to make a car from initially, bu

        • by Anonymous Coward

          I'm not sure what you're talking about. If you pick up a piece of sheet steel and bend it into a new shape then sure, it's material characteristics change (every deformation of solid metal changes it's microscopic structure). But that's not how you recycle steel; rather you dump it into an arc furnace and make new steel out if it -- and then its exactly like new steel.

        • Last time I checked, Japanese cars were made primarily out of recycled American cars.

          Not sure where you got this nugget. Certainly not the case today or any time in the last 40 years. Pretty sure it was never true. Citations?

          When you recycle steel, it gets harder and more brittle.

          Not sure where you got this one either. Contaminants are an issue at times but as a general proposition steel does not "get harder and more brittle" from recycling. Heck, the second largest steel maker in the US (Nucor) basically built their business on recycling steel. Steel is just as recyclable as aluminum and is one of the most recycled materials we use.

          • Not sure where you got this nugget. Certainly not the case today or any time in the last 40 years. Pretty sure it was never true. Citations?

            My auto body instructor told me. He was ASE master certified, which means he knew a thing or three.

            • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Wednesday July 13, 2016 @10:14AM (#52503913)

              My auto body instructor told me. He was ASE master certified, which means he knew a thing or three.

              Doesn't mean he knew shit about supply chains and he certainly didn't know anything about steel refineries. I have worked in the auto industry for over 15 years as an engineer and have done purchasing for big and small automotive companies including steel frame components. Your ASE certified instructor didn't know what he was talking about in this case. Sounds to me like he was making shit up because he didn't like Japanese vehicles for whatever reason since it is wildly untrue that Japanese cars are made from recycled American cars. Talk to a materials engineer for correct information, not a guy who knows his way around a welding gun.

              The hardness and brittleness of steel is a function of the grain structure and alloy of the steel among a few other things. It has nothing to do with whether it was recycled steel or created from ore. You could put both under a spectrometer or electron microscope and chances are you would be unable to tell any difference if they were made to the same spec.

        • by Ogive17 ( 691899 )
          Japanese cars built in N. America use a higher grade steel (in most cases) than American automotive companies. Stronger and more resistant to corrosion. Now was that steel recycled in some way? That I do not know.

          My wife was recently the steel buyer for a tier 1 supplier to many of the OEs.
    • In Japan, they block CHinese steel, because China dumps on their markets and Japan will not allow that, like America does.
      SO, their steel comes from Japan, while their IRON comes from Australia and South America.
    • The company says the new engines will reduce its reliance on the metals that are primarily supplied by China.

      This is pure lip service. Guess where they get all their steel that composes 80% of the car from?

      [Staring at periodic table...] Hey, where the hell is China?

  • by mspohr ( 589790 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2016 @05:50PM (#52500791)

    The Tesla has an AC induction motor (invented by Nicolai Tesla) which is just steel and copper. No rare earth magnets... no magnets at all.
    It's about time the rest of the auto industry woke up and started putting some "advanced technology" in their fossil fuel powered cars.
    https://www.teslamotors.com/bl... [teslamotors.com]

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Honda's main problem here is that when you have both a petrol and electric motor, you need to drag one or the other around with you much of the time as dead weight. It is therefore much more important to keep weight and size down compared to a pure electric.

      Permanent magnet motors offer about 1.5-2x the power to weight of an induction motor, and I can only imagine that is why they are still using them.

      A better alternative would be a switched reluctance motor, but large pole count versions of these are tied

      • by mspohr ( 589790 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2016 @07:34PM (#52501347)

        It's complicated and there are many factors. This section from the article I linked has some of them:
        "In contrast, induction machines have no magnets and B fields are “adjustable,” since B is proportionate to V/f (voltage to frequency). This means that at light loads the inverter can reduce voltage such that magnetic losses are reduced and efficiency is maximized. Thus, the induction machine when operated with a smart inverter has an advantage over a DC brushless machine – magnetic and conduction losses can be traded such that efficiency is optimized. This advantage becomes increasingly important as performance is increased. With DC brushless, as machine size grows, the magnetic losses increase proportionately and part load efficiency drops. With induction, as machine size grows, losses do not necessarily grow. Thus, induction drives may be the favored approach where high-performance is desired; peak efficiency will be a little less than with DC brushless, but average efficiency may actually be better."

      • A Tesla motor produces 362 horsepower and weighs 70 pounds. Even if a permanent magnet motor can be lighter by a factor of 2, it's not going to affect performance that much. The weight of the batteries, and the efficiency of the motor, are much more important. And for range, steady state low load performance is most important as most long range driving is done on a highway. Induction motors are better there. Permanent magnets might be better for city driving, but that's not really the limiting factor for ra

      • Honda's main problem, as the owner of one, and prior owner of another, is that their Hybrids do not compete. I get at best 43mpg in my Civic and my old 2010 Insight topped out around 44mpg. They don't drag anything around as they use an IMA (Integrated motor assist) that just "assists" the gas motor when accelerating.
    • by JanneM ( 7445 )

      Induction motors have lower torque and worse efficiency, though.

      • by mspohr ( 589790 )

        There are pros and cons to each approach:
        "Thus, the induction machine when operated with a smart inverter has an advantage over a DC brushless machine – magnetic and conduction losses can be traded such that efficiency is optimized. This advantage becomes increasingly important as performance is increased. With DC brushless, as machine size grows, the magnetic losses increase proportionately and part load efficiency drops. With induction, as machine size grows, losses do not necessarily grow. Thus, in

      • by jabuzz ( 182671 )

        Yeah and I just watched the other week a Top Gear episode where a Tesla X out performed some Dodge muscle car, so clearly there is still *WAY* more torque in that motor than necessary for normal driving.

    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

      And a long time ago rare earth metals were unusual in cars.

      And those that did exist was usually just seen as contaminants.

    • by MercTech ( 46455 )

      I thought the rare earths were found in the magnets used in the motors and in the manufacture of the high electrical density batteries. If not magnets and batteries; where are they using rare earth compounds?

      I've been challenging the concept of electric cars being better for the environment for years. Looking from a total system point of view; very change in energy form has inherent losses. For an electric car you go from chemical fuel or nuclear energy to mechanical power to elec

      • by mspohr ( 589790 )

        The problem for fossil fueled internal combustion engines (ICE) is that they are very inefficient at converting the heat from the fuel to motion... about 25-30% at best. OTOH, large generating stations and the electrical distribution network are much more efficient. So even after going through electrical distribution and battery charge/discharge losses (about 10%), it is a much more efficient use of fossil fuels to power an electric car. Of course, if your electric car is powered by renewables (hydro, solar

  • Honda could simply switch to using an AC induction motor, like Tesla. Not only doesn't it have any rare-earth magnets - it doesn't have magnets at all!

    Hell, GE switched to using AC induction motors in their diesel-electric locomotives back in the 1990s. Get with the program, Honda!
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It is true that AC induction motors don't have magnets, but they also have a markedly worse power to weight ratio, so they have disadvantages in automotive applications where the vehicle accelerates frequently. It is less of a worry on trains, where the extra weight is a tiny fraction of the whole train's mass, and the train doesn't start and stop very often. It is a larger factor for automobiles though.

      • by bobbied ( 2522392 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2016 @07:02PM (#52501185)

        It's not a large factor on a train because they are not battery powered.... You either get your power from a diesel engine or from the overhead electric lines, so you don't have to be all that efficient. Second, you are not really weight constrained in a Train locomotive either, more weight doesn't affect the efficiency much.

        In a battery powered device, efficiency is paramount and both motor efficiency and lower weight are advantages. It's all about going the most distance on a charge right now, and so far, battery powered vehicles are *really* lacking range over their fossil fueled siblings.

      • by wchin ( 6284 )

        Not according to Musk:

        https://chargedevs.com/newswir... [chargedevs.com]

  • by Sir Holo ( 531007 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2016 @06:25PM (#52500969)

    Neodymium is a rare earth element.

    All of them are heavy.

  • Seriously, by going to an AC motor, as opposed to DC, they could improve their efficiency, lower costs, and increase torque.
    • Seriously, by going to an AC motor, as opposed to DC, they could improve their efficiency, lower costs, and increase torque.

      And the efficient AC power source for a battery-powered electric car? Where would that come from?

      DC–>AC Converters are expensive, and they wear out. Ask anyone in the solar energy industry.

      • by AaronW ( 33736 ) on Wednesday July 13, 2016 @12:51AM (#52502367) Homepage

        I hate to break it to you but the synchronous motors used in most hybrids and EVs require AC as well. All brushless motors require AC in order to generate a rotating magnetic field. In fact, the controllers are not all that different between an induction and a synchronous motor. The synchronous motor is dependent on the rotor position whereas the induction motor is dependent on the rotors speed. The actual drive of the motor coils is similar.

        Generating AC from DC is actually not difficult with modern semiconductors which can handle a tremendous amount of current and they've also proven to be quite reliable as well. Every modern hybrid and EV ever made requires AC to drive the motor, regardless if it is an induction motor or not.

  • Is the car gluten free?

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