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Finding Alternatives to Autos That Run on REEs

April 15, 2013

ARPA-E’s REACT program aims to develop the next generation of hybrid vehicles: electric motors without rare earths.

Baldor Electric Company 303x303 Finding Alternatives to Autos That Run on REEs

Baldor Electric Company’s rare-earth-free traction motor. Image via ARPA-E.

Hybrid cars’ efficiency and condensed fuel consumption are stellar examples of their positive impact on the environment. The lower the fuel intake, the fewer greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere.

But, The Advanced Research Projects Agency- Energy team is trying to do one better: design electric motors that do not require the use of rare earth elements.

With the skyrocketing demand and depleting supply of REEs, the U.S. Department of Energy is exploring solutions to this increasingly growing concern. From the miniscule neodymium magnets that control a cell phone’s speaker, to the terbium-containing LCD screens of a computer monitor, these finite minerals power many of our electronics.

So, what does this mean for the way our society functions as the volume of REEs continues to dwindle? Recycling is a must. Finding alternatives is even more important.

In 2011, the ARPA-E began funding its Rare Earth Alternatives in Critical Technologies program to do just that. National companies and established research institutions comprise the 14 projects that are attempting to generate substitutes in two main areas: motors and wind generators.

Of the $27.5 million currently invested in REACT, about $8.7 million is being funneled into three separate projects tackling the electric motor design. Baldor Electric Company’s rare-earth-free traction motor is a lighter, less costly option than the common bulkier model used in today’s electric vehicles.

Similarly, the double-stator motor design the University of Texas at Dallas is fostering targets low-cost manufacturing, and the two stators’ composition will also allow the vehicle to drive in more ragged conditions and under harsher temperatures.

QM Power is experimenting with iron-based magnetic materials to provide torque to the wheels in its efficient, high-torque electric vehicle motor, while still being more cost efficient.

According to the ARPA-E’s website, the potential success of these unique electric motors will not only benefit the environment, but can also help boost the economy with the creation of thousands of jobs and bring energy security by relying on abundant materials.

Head here to learn more information about REACT’s projects and initiatives.

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