There is an increasing concern among hybrid manufacturers and others who tout the vehicles for their reduced emissions. The concern is the metals which are required to make these hybrid vehicles and their availability in the future.
Rare earth metals, which are fifteen different elements on the periodic table, are an intricate part of any hybrid vehicle. Popular models such as the Toyota Prius, Honda Insight and Ford Focus all use these metals. Some experts of metals consider the Prius as the largest consumer of rare earth metals in the world.
Of the many varied elements used in hybrids is neodymium. This metal is used to make magnets for the electric motors, in addition to being used in wind turbine generators. Terbium and dysprosium are other elements in use, particularly for retaining neodymium’s magnetism in high heat. In addition, lanthanum is a metal used for hybrid car batteries.
A single Toyota Prius uses anywhere from 22-33 pounds of lanthanum for the battery. The electric motor of the vehicle needs about two pounds of neodymium. These statistics are for current Prius models and not the future models which are expected to require more of the elements for greater mileage.
Due to the increasing prevalence of wind turbines and hybrid vehicles there is an increasing strain on the rare earth metals market. It must also be noted that the increased requirement of such metals has increased mining for these metals, which is extremely hard on the environment.
In terms of worldwide availability of rare earth metals, it is predicted that there will be a shortage of at least 40,000 tons per year in the near future. This statistic is based on current availability and sources worldwide. China currently produces the most rare earth metals and limits the amount they make available to the world, which further strains the market.