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2010 Toyota Prius - Click above for high-res image gallery

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.



[Source: Reuters]


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  • 17 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      "The Prius automobile is the biggest user of rare earths of any object in the world."

      This is categorically false. The Toyota Highlander must use more than a Prius, the battery and motors are both larger! :)

      _Am
      • 5 Years Ago
      Mr. Lifton is prone to hyperbole and does not fact check. I would read his statements with skepticism.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Despite the conventional left wing nonsense about waging wars for resources, and the attempted and achieved takeove sof Venezuela and Bolivia, an inconvenient fact emerges to derail the paper ivoru towers.

      Iraq's Oil supposedly the targert of Wars, has not yet commback on stream. The US got no Oil for its billions in war costs, and the OIl discoveries in the Anbar Province have not yet even been awarded development contracts. us Oil interests willhave ot bid for Oil just like all others. And theUS government arranged it that way.

      Leftists continue to dwell in their fantasy land of propaganda. Iraqi Oil for Iraqis remains the reality..

      • 5 Years Ago
      REEs are not all that rare, though some are...But do a search for REE refiners outside of China..now thats rare. BTW REEs are used to produce a lot of things, like exotic metals, lightbulbs, crack oil for refining to fuel, ect. Although it is threat to our security the US produces zip. though like he said in California they will start mining it..but because of EPA standards there are no plans to refine it in the US. There is only one place on earth the US can absolutly count on in case of war to supply refined REEs for our military. We import from other countrys but only one we could count on as a alie.
      • 5 Years Ago
      After reading Mr. Lifton's comments about the Volt, and his attack on autoblog for quoting someone, I'm not sure he should be given too much credibility.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Yep, most "rare earth" elements are about as rare as copper.

        It's just that there wasn't such significant demand for most (e.g. neodymium) until recently.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Copper is likely a bigger problem really. It has competing uses and people already are risking 50,000V to steal it from transformers from the power grid.

        A better question is where do you want these materials, in cars or in wind generators?
        • 5 Years Ago
        I think this whole "rare earth metals scarcity omg!" is an astroTurf campaign by some group that hates hybrids/evs/progress. Probably big oil.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Also, this article seems a bit more upbeat : http://www.planetark.com/enviro-news/item/54459

      Also, Molycorp is restarting the old mine, not starting a new one.
      • 5 Years Ago
      As several commentors point out, rare earths are not rare, however, it is expensive to set up the infrastructure needed to mine and separate the elements, so no one is going to rush to build new facilities. However with the need for green technologies that utilize neo magnets the time has come to start this process. Molycorp Minerals is actively working to re-open their mine and today has stockpiles of rare earths it currently sells. In the future they can supply a variety of rare earths and Arnold Magnetic Technologies has announced that it intends to build a domestic plant in the U.S. to produce rare earth magnets including neo as they generally believe that in the coming years demand will outstrip current supply.
      • 5 Years Ago
      This looks like a specious argument to me. Take a look at this USGS report and read between the lines: http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2002/fs087-02/

      Sure, China currently produces almost all the REE used today, but this is mostly because Molycorp has stopped mining at Mountain Pass, CA because of the low price of REEs (China is of course cheaper) and radioactivity concerns. Why mine something when the price is low and it can kill you? The ore is still there however.

      Using US REEs costs more, so everyone uses Chinese REEs. So stop complaining and learn Mandarin. It's an artificial shortage based again on cheap Chinese labor and lax environmental concerns in China, not a true shortage.

      • 5 Years Ago
      I'm having trouble understanding the comment that :
      '"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.'
      Since wind turbines use hundred kilograms of neodymium per MW of capacity, in what sense the Prius is the highest user is difficult to understand.
      If the concern is lanthanum, used in NiMH batteries, then even a browse of Wiki shows that too much concern other than for temporary hiccups may be misplaced:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lanthanum

      In any case, hybrids and EV's are increasingly switching to lithium, of which there are ample supplies for many billions of vehicles:
      http://www.chemetallithium.com/index.php?id=7

      The Nissan Leaf uses around 4kg of lithium for it's 24kwh battery, or about 0.16kg per kwh

      Although most neodymium comes from China at the moment, it is also far from rare:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neodymium
      • 5 Years Ago
      Agreed, with both you, the technology will push through, and it's not life or death or cause for a "fight looming in the not-so-distant future for this precious rare earth" they're not gonna be war over this, if there is, then japan will have as little integrity as the current U.S. aggressions have gained us. A world run purely on wars waged for resource, to try to gain chips in this joke for a game we call our world financial market. Hungry Hungry Hippos...
      • 5 Years Ago
      I think it's worth noting that judging by that article the metal primary seems to be used in the electric motor (a permanent magnet DC motor). There are other motor designs, such as the AC induction motor in the Tesla that don't require rare earth metals. (But do require DC-AC Inverter circuits).
        • 5 Years Ago
        The "brushless DC" motor that Toyota is using has a sophisticated controller that is about as complex as the variable speed inverter for an induction motor, so the cost for the electronics is equivalent. The cost for the motor itself is higher, and will rise if Neodymium prices go up.

        The reason that Toyota is using permanent magnet "brushless" motors is that their rotation can be precisely controlled and can be electronically held in one position, a trait very useful for their split path hybrid transmission design. It is theoretically possible to replace one or both of their motor/generators with AC induction motors, but that would require extensive re-engineering the control systems to coordinate the two motor/generators and the IC engine in their hybrid design.

        As for the Lathanium issue, switching to LiIon batteries would solve that, and no doubt Toyota engineers are hard at work testing LiIon batteries for automotive uses.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Jack Lifton is also the guy who has been trying to create a 'Lithium shortage' scare as well. It seems everything needed to make EVs is in short supply according to Jack Lifton. Hmmm.
      http://seekingalpha.com/article/131614-lithium-batteries-nothing-but-illusion

      Yeah, sure Jack.
        • 5 Years Ago
        There are no standards or testing required to be an "analyst", anybody can do it, even the incompetent.

        The article you linked is a prime example of bad analysis. He puts down lithium batteries simply because he is trying to pump up "Axion Power International", a company that, like Firefly, is making lead acid batteries improved with carbon electrodes. He claims he doesn't have any stock in it, pretending to be impartial, but I seriously doubt that claim (just like I doubt his article).
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