More electronics makers learning to do without rare earths


More of the nation’s electronics makers are developing products that do not use rare earth metals, 90 percent of which are sourced from China.

High-tech companies are trying to develop technologies that maintain the performance of existing items without the use of rare earth metals, concerned about unstable prices and procurement.

Rare earth elements, such as neodymium and dysprosium, are used in high-end motors because they improve energy efficiency by increasing magnetic power.

Last summer, prices for the metals soared after China tightened export regulations, citing resource depletion. While the price surge has paused, rare earth prices are still high compared with two years ago.

The rare earth procurement problem prompted Hitachi Ltd. to develop an industrial motor that doesn’t need the elements. By adjusting the shape and an iron core at the heart of the motor, the company was able to attain an energy efficiency on par with that of products made with rare earths.

Mitsubishi Electric Corp. is using an electric magnet in an electric vehicle motor under development, instead of magnets made with rare earth minerals.

The efficiency of the motor is some 90 percent of products made with rare earth metals, and the firm hopes to put it into use by 2017.

TDK Corp. has developed a magnet for a hard-disk drive without using dysprosium and plans to begin mass production at the end of the year.