Rarer earths

A late-1999 ad piece for the 2000 Infiniti I30 — regular readers will recall that I actually drive one of those critters — makes a fuss about comparative ephemera like this:

The 7-speaker Bose® system with CD uses a new Nd woofer whose neodymium iron boron magnet has ten times the magnetic energy of conventional speakers, for richer sound and no audible distortion.

With (in)judicious selection of program material, I can get all the audible distortion I can stand and then some. But the weird-sounding bit is “neodymium iron boron,” though it turns out that NdFeB is pretty much a commodity these days, magnet-wise, and you have to figure that actual neodymium, one of the vaunted Rare Earths that hangs out of the middle of the periodic table, is probably not the major contributor to this alloy.

You want a lot of neodymium, don’t think Bose; think Toyota. As in Prius:

Jack Lifton, an independent commodities consultant and strategic metals expert, calls the Prius “the biggest user of rare earths of any object in the world.”

Each electric Prius motor requires 1 kilogram (2.2 lb) of neodymium, and each battery [pack] uses 10 to 15 kg (22-33 lb) of lanthanum. That number will nearly double under Toyota’s plans to boost the car’s fuel economy, he said.

As it turns out, the rare earths aren’t all that rare, but they are difficult to mine — and worse, the Chinese dominate the trade, which means that new supplies will have to be developed if we’re to have lots of hybrid cars. Or, for that matter, nonhybrid cars with hotly-hyped stereo systems.

(Via AutoblogGreen.)


  1. fillyjonk »

    3 September 2009 · 11:28 am

    I suppose it could be worse, they could be made of Illudium Q-36, and we’d have to go to MARS for that…

  2. Donna B. »

    3 September 2009 · 2:41 pm

    Have we simply given up on developing dilithium crystal technology?

  3. CGHill »

    3 September 2009 · 2:54 pm

    I suspect it will be tricky, since dilithium found in nature is both gaseous and stable.

  4. Jeffro »

    3 September 2009 · 10:57 pm

    That makes me very very angry, indeed.

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