As we once again learned last week with the news that China was considering an effort to limit the amount of rare earth metals that are exported outside its own borders, there's a finite supply of available resources on our planet. Could there be a fight looming in the not-so-distant future for these precious rare earth metals? Maybe. And, if that's the case, Toyota may have reason to be concerned.
According to Jack Lifton, a commodities analyst and leading authority on rare metals (via Reuters), "The Prius automobile is the biggest user of rare earths of any object in the world." How much are we talking? Lifton says there's 1 kilogram (2.2 lb) of neodymium in the Prius hybrid's electric motor and 10 to 15 kg (22-33 lb) of lanthanum in the car's battery pack. Those figures would likely rise if the car were fitted with a larger battery pack and motor for higher fuel efficiency.
Not surprisingly, Toyota is said to be searching for additional suppliers of these materials outside China. An open-pit mine in Mountain Pass, California, is scheduled to begin operations within the next few years and there are reportedly potential sources in Canada and Vietnam.