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Japanese manufacturers to China: We don't need your rare earths

Posting in Energy

Honda, maker of this hybrid car, is among the companies driving alternatives to the traditional business of rare earths, used in autos, wind turbines, you name it.

Earlier this year, we noted that Japan's Toyota was loosening China's stranglehold on rare earth metals, not through any policy harangue or through extra mining of its own, but via good old innovation.

As we reported via Reuters, the $249 billion car maker "has developed a way to make hybrid and electric vehicles without the use of expensive rare earth metals, in which China has a near monopoly."

It turns out that Toyota is hardly alone among Japanese manufacturers, many of whom are also developing technologies that work around China's export restrictions on rare earths, the metals used in everything from cars to wind turbines to iPods and light bulbs, just to name a few common items.

Asahi Shimbun recently ran a round up enumerating similar initiatives. Among them:

  • Honda Motor Corp. plans to start extracting and recycling rare earths from nickel-metal hydride batteries used in hybrid cars.
  • In February, Panasonic Corp. introduced recycling equipment that extracts neodymium magnets from home electric appliances. Panasonic will use the neodymium - a rare earth element - in air conditioner compressors, drum washer motors, and other products.
  • TDK Corp. will slash the amount of rare earth dysprosium that it uses to make magnets for cars, by developing a magnet in which it paints dysprosium onto the surface rather than mixing it into the body.

If you can't beat 'em, innovate!

Photo: uhonda.com

Rare earth stories aren't rare on SmartPlanet:

— By on October 11, 2012, 10:37 PM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure