Rare-earth metals, motor efficiency dominate China E-motors meeting

  • 17-Nov-2011 10:34 EST
E-motors Symposium 16Nov11.JPG

Auto industry analyst Dr. Wolfgang Bernhart kicks off the 2011 SAE Electric Motors Symposium Nov. 16 to a packed audience of Asia-region engineers, e-motor designers, and researchers at the Marriott Hongqiao Shanghai, China. (Lindsay Brooke)

Blog from the 2011 SAE International E-Motors Symposium

SHANGHAI, CHINA, Thursday morning, Nov. 17—The cost and long-term availability of rare-earth metals, the potential for reducing motor costs, and the need for improvements in the efficiency of traction motors for EVs and hybrids were the hot topics at the 2011 SAE Powertrain Electric Motors Symposium, held here Nov. 16.

The event featured eight sessions covering key technology and business issues for e-motor designers, engineers, and researchers. More than 120 attendees, many of them from Asia-region automakers and suppliers, participated. The meeting directly followed SAE’s Vehicle Battery Summit held Nov. 14-15, also at the Marriott Hongqiao Shanghai.

“We expect increases in raw material prices—there will be no relaxation in the future,” warned Dr. Wolfgang Bernhart, a partner with strategy consultants Roland Berger, in his opening address. Dr. Bernhart, a supply-chain and vehicle-technology expert, noted that China’s fast-growing auto industry is already a leader in vehicle electrification, with the most hybrid buses in use and heavy government support for hybrid and EV passenger vehicle development.

And China itself controls more than 90% of the mining and processing of rare-earth metals—a critical material in permanent-magnet motors. “The rare-earth challenge needs to be managed—through materials substitution or footprint/partnering strategy,” he asserted.

Dr. Bernhart noted that while some industry players have formed new alliances to try to circumvent China’s hammerlock (including the “mine-to-magnet” joint venture announced by Siemens and Australia’s Lynas Corp. last summer), the auto industry also is investigating alternative materials for future high-performance magnets and new types of e-motors—a subject covered by motor-engineering experts later in the SAE event.

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