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U.K. Grant Awarded to Develop Non-Rare Earth Electric Engine

Rare earths (USGS)

(U.S. Geological Service)

The Technology Strategy Board in the U.K. has awarded a grant to two companies and a university to develop an engine not dependent on rare earth metals for electric vehicles. The funding worth £518,000 ($US 821,000) to companies Sevcon and Cummins Generator Technologies, and Newcastle University is aimed at building a new type of engine for hybrid and pure electric vehicles.

Current electric vehicle technologies rely on rare earth metals such as Neodymium and Dysprosium, for which world market prices have about tripled in the past six months. The New York Times reported last week that China has nationalized or imposed stricter controls on mining and processing of rare earth metals, which promises to keep supplies restricted and prices high. China produces nearly 95 percent of the world’s rare earth metals.

The High Torque Density Switched Reluctance Drive System for Low Carbon Vehicles project funded by the grant will investigate replacing rare earth metals with steel, a material not only less expensive and widely available, but also less harmful to the environment. The project aims to develop an engine capable of generating sufficient power and traction in a cost competitive and design suitable for high-volume manufacturing.

The market for electric cars and commercial vehicles is expected to grow five fold over the next decade from less than 2 million vehicles sold in 2010 to an estimated 49 million by 2020.

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