What? Honda Motor Co., Japan's third-largest automaker, has co-developed a new magnet, essential for the batteries in gas-electric hybrid vehicles, without two rare earth metals supplied mainly by China. The company announced that the hybrid battery pack, developed with Daido Steel Co., doesn't include the expensive rare earth metals dysprosium and terbium. The new battery is a major advance, removing Honda's dependence on China and reducing the battery's cost by about 10-per cent, and its weight by eight per cent. The battery pack will first be used in Honda's Freed minivan, sold in the Asian market beginning in late 2016.
So what? Rare earth metals, many of which are only mined in China, have become a strategic resource in the production of hybrid and electric vehicles, and thus a political vulnerability for automakers. For example, in 2010, in response to a territorial dispute, China temporarily banned the export of rare earth metals to Japan. Honda's new battery pack shows that automakers are finding alternatives to the dependence on rare earths for the production of alternative-fuel vehicles. This is critical to the automaker's business plan since by 2030 Honda is aiming for new alternative fuels vehicles--including gasoline-electric hybrids, plug-in hybrids, battery-electric and fuel cell vehicles--to account for two thirds of its sales. The new battery still uses the rare earth metal neodymium, but this is available from suppliers in North America and Australia. Thus the present race to discover new rare earth deposits may become less important, as companies invest in R&D to seek cheaper non-rare earth metal alternatives, and also avoid emerging trade disputes.
Source: Fortune - Honda Has Developed a Hybrid Battery Without Chinese Rare Earths