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Hitachi spins up 'leccy fan motor sans rare earths

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Japanese electronics giant Hitachi has unveiled what it claims to be a highly efficient mid-sized electric motor built without using the rare earth minerals which have become essential to the production of much of modern technology.

The 11kw motor is designed to power pumps or fans in factories and tunnels and should be ready for commercial production by 2014, said Hitachi.

The key design challenge the firm had to overcome was to build a magnet synchronous motor with the requisite energy efficiency and performance without using the rare earth minerals neodymium and dysprosium.

Hitachi said it achieved this thanks to developing its own “iron-based amorphous metal core”, which it has been working on since 2008.

The main drivers for the project were improving energy efficiency to counter global warming and move away from a reliance on rare earth materials which China has a virtual monopoly on.

“From the viewpoint of resource depletion, the need for replacement of recycling of rare earth and other materials is increasing,” the firm said in a press release.

China has come under increasing pressure from the US, Europe and Japan over its hardline stance on rare earths, of which it has a global market share of around 97 per cent.

It has been reprimanded several times already by the World Trade Organisation and is under investigation again after the US, EU and Japan filed complaints alleging China’s export restrictions are unfair and could severely affect the global supply chain for countless products.

While some have claimed China is squeezing exports deliberately to push prices up, the government has argued that this is merely part of its plans to become more environmentally friendly. In fact, it announced a cut back on rare earth mining last month as part of this strategy.

Whatever the reasons, the global supply chain would be a lot happier if either alternative rare earth deposits or alternative ways of manufacturing goods like hard drives and plasma screens could be found.

According to reports, Hitachi plans to develop its home grown technology further for use in cars and home appliances. ®

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