Major automakers are seeking new ways to make electric vehicle (EV) motors that depend less on rare earth minerals.
China controls most mining and processing of a group of 17 metals known as rare earths. These minerals are used to produce permanent magnets. Many experts consider permanent magnets to be the most effective way to power EVs.
But new motor designs show that permanent magnets are not necessary to produce a commercially successfully EV. And some Western EV makers are finding new solutions to produce motors that avoid rare earth minerals.
EV market leader Tesla announced earlier this year it planned to remove rare earths from its next-generation EVs.
Other automakers are also in the process of researching or developing EV motors that use little or no rare earth minerals. These include General Motors, Jaguar Land Rover and BMW.
Nissan says it plans to develop newer motors with low rare earth content, as well as permanent magnet motors that will one day no longer need the minerals.
German technology supplier ZF has developed a new kind of motor the company says is very similar to the size and performance of permanent magnet motors. This kind of motor, known as EESM, uses electricity to produce a magnetic field.
ZF's Chief Technology Officer, Otmar Scharrer, told Reuters news agency such development is "an important contribution to making us a little more independent of China."
ZF is in talks with U.S., European and Chinese automakers to supply the motor and could start producing EV models within two years, Scharrer said.
Besides being mostly controlled by China, some rare earth development produces poisonous waste that can harm people and the environment. The problem could also be helped by using motors that do not depend on rare earth minerals.
"If you get it right, you've got a much more sustainable product," said Ben Chiswick. He directs engineering business development for Detroit-based Drive System Design. The company is working to create rare earth-free motors with three different automakers.
Some companies, like BMW, say they have already made great progress after years of research. "It was not a home run... but it works very well without rare earths," said Uwe Deuke of BMW's latest development efforts. He leads engineering efforts for the company's EESM motor planned for its next-generation EVs.
I'm Bryan Lynn.
Reuters reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English.
_____________________________________________Words in This Story
commercial – adj. related to buying and selling things
contribution – n. something that is done to help produce or develop something
sustainable – adj. causing little or no damage to the environment
home run – n. an impressive success or accomplishment