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New Nissan LEAF Rare Earth Electric Motor Innovation, Rare Earth Shortages and a Glass Half-Full

November 21, 2012 0 Comments
Nissan Leaf AC permanent magnet synchronous electric motor

Nissan LEAF AC permanent magnet synchronous electric motor, 107 hp, 207 lb-ft

Yesterday, Popular Mechanics posted online the very topical story, “New Nissan LEAF Motor Cuts Rare Earth Element by 40 Percent“. What they’re talking about is reducing the amount of the rare earth, dysprosium, which is used to replace a small portion of the neodymium rare earth in Neodymium-iron-boron magnets in order to raise the coercivity or strength of the magnets while also improving their corrosion resistance, both of which are very desirable in electric vehicle applications. To some, replacing a portion of one rare earth with another in a rare earth electric motor may bring to mind the old “Is the glass half empty or half full?” expression.

Glass half full

However, all rare earths are not created equal. Dysprosium is one of the rarest and its price is many times that of neodymium. Therefore, being able to reduce even the small amount of dysprosium used in Neo magnets is a significant achievement, particularly in terms of reported looming shortages of rare earth materials.

Which brings up the “glass half full” situation again in a rather interesting fashion. Since the rare earth shortages have become big news items (owing to the some measure of hype on the electric vehicle market and geopolitical issues), reactions have been mixed. On the glass half empty side, I have seen stories headlined, “Shortage of Rare Earth Elements Could Thwart Innovation”. The glass half full contingent, however, heralds, “Rare Earth Elements Fueling Innovation”.

The new Nissan LEAF motor is a great example of the glass optimistically being half full. “Instead of distributing the heat-resistant dysprosium throughout a neodymium magnet, as is done currently”, Popular Mechanics reports, “Nissan engineers coated each crystal within the magnet with a layer of dysprosium in a process known as grain boundary diffusion.” Actually, I believe the Dysprosium grain boundary fusion innovation can be credited to the work of Shin-Etsu Chemical back in 2005. Like many innovations, it just requires the market timing and economics to be in alignment and it appears that now they are. I’m hoping that this kind of automotive-driven innovation will cross over into the industrial and commercial electric motor world in which Dunkermotor operates.

Mark Twain said, “It’s better to be an optimist who is sometimes wrong than a pessimist who is always right”. I agree and it’s exciting to see some of the innovation the rare earth shortage has spurred as in my earlier post about how switched reluctance motors are becoming the recipients of new innovative attention.

In my next post, I’ll try to cover the Nissan LEAF electric motor in a little more detail. Stay tuned.

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About the Author:

John Morehead is an experienced marketing, sales and business development leader. He’s passionate about motion control and advanced motor technology and shares that enthusiastically with those he encounters and many more through his myriad marketing initiatives. This blog is one more tool to be able to spread the word about news, information and insights on the motion control, electric motors, drives and automation fields. Your comments or questions on posts are welcome.

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