Ford’s third-generation hybrid system will be using lithium-ion batteries and Ford says this will help reduce the use of rare earth metals.
Replacing nickel-metal-hydride batteries with new lighter more efficient lithium-ion batteries could reduce the company’s use of expensive, less-abundant rare earth metals by up to 500,000 pounds a year according to Ford.
This reduction of rare earth metals is important for both financial and physical reasons. First, the cost is reduced by 30 percent when compared to previous-generation hybrid batteries. Also, lithium-ion batteries are 50 percent lighter and 25 to 30 percent smaller. The result is better energy and fuel efficiency in Ford’s new electric vehicle offerings.
“We’re continually looking to find ways to provide greater fuel efficiency as well as cost savings to customers of our hybrid vehicles, and the reduction of rare earth metals is a key part of this strategy,” said Chuck Gray, chief engineer, Global Core Engineering, Hybrid and Electric Vehicles.
Among the rare earth metals used in nickel-metal-hydride batteries are neodymium, cerium, lanthanum and praseodymium, none of which are used in the new lithium-ion batteries. Additionally, Ford has reduced its use of dysprosium by approximately 50 percent in magnets employed in the hybrid system’s electric machines.
Dysprosium is the most expensive rare earth metal used in Ford vehicles. This reduction is the result of a new diffusion process that is used in the magnet manufacturing process.
The overall reduction of rare earth metals in the lithium-ion batteries and electric machines lowers vehicle costs, which is key as Ford triples production of its electric vehicles by 2013, ultimately translating to more affordable, fuel-efficient vehicle choices for customers.
Rare earth metals are a set of 17 atomic elements in the periodic table. While some are indeed rare, others are plentiful within specific regions in the earth’s crust. These metals are used in many consumer products including mobile phones, LED televisions, computer screens and hybrid vehicle batteries.