Honda Motor and Daido Electronics have developed a new method for making high-performance magnets – used in motors in electric vehicles and other products – that eliminates the need for rare-earth metals imported from China.

The technical breakthrough reduces China supply risk and is described as a first practical application of a “hot deformed neodymium magnet containing no heavy rare earth and yet with high heat resistance properties and high magnetic performance required for the use in the driving motor of a hybrid vehicle”. This heavy rare earth-free hot deformed neodymium magnet will be applied first to the hybrid system in the new Honda Freed, scheduled to go on sale later this year. Honda will continue expanding application of this technology to new models in the future.

Daido Electronics, a unit of Daido Steel, says it has received inquiries from about twenty companies in the auto industry about the magnet and plans to set up a new plant in the US.

Honda and Daido Electronics began working on the new magnet around 2010, when tensions were rising between Japan and China over disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Honda Motor Background

Neodymium magnets have the highest magnetic force among all magnets in the world and are being used for the drive motors of electric vehicles including hybrid vehicles, and therefore demand for neodymium magnets is expected to grow exponentially in the future.

For use in the drive motors of electric vehicles, neodymium magnets must have high heat resistance properties as they are used in a high temperature environment. Adding heavy rare earth (dysprosium and/or terbium) to the neodymium magnets has been a conventional method to secure such high heat resistance.

However, major deposits of heavy rare earth elements are unevenly around the world (some concentrated in China), and also are categorised as rare metals; thus, the use of heavy rare earth carries risks from the perspectives of stable procurement and material costs. Therefore, a reduction in the use of heavy rare earth elements has been one of the major challenges needing to be addressed in order to use neodymium magnets for the drive motors of hybrid vehicles, Daido points out.

Daido Electronics Co., Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of Daido Steel, has been mass-producing neodymium magnets using the hot deformation method. The hot deformation method is a technology that “enables nanometer-scale crystal grains to be well-aligned in order to realize a fine crystal grain structure that is approximately ten times smaller than that of a sintered magnet, which makes it possible to produce magnets with greater heat resistance properties”.

Daido Steel and Honda jointly developed new neodymium magnets while Daido Steel further evolved its hot deformation technologies and Honda leveraged its experience in development of drive motors and revised the shape of the magnet. Through these joint development efforts, the two companies have achieved a practical application of a neodymium magnet which “contains absolutely no heavy rare earth yet has high heat resistance and high magnetic performance suitable for use in the drive motor of hybrid vehicles”.

Honda has designed a new motor which accommodates this new magnet. In addition to the shape of the magnet, Honda revised the shape of the rotor to optimize the flow of the magnetic flux of the magnet. As a result, the hot deformed neodymium magnet that contains absolutely no heavy rare earth became usable for the drive motor of a hybrid vehicle, demonstrating torque, output and heat resistance performance equivalent to those of a motor that uses the conventional type of magnet.

Adoption of this technology enables a break from the constraints associated with heavy rare earth, which had been one of the challenges to expanding the use of neodymium magnets. Daido says the technology will make it possible to avoid resource-related risks and diversify channels of procurement.

Daido Electronics is planning imminent mass-production and shipment of the new magnet using a new production line that the company built in its factory (located in Nakatsugawa City in Gifu Prefecture in Japan) using a subsidy received from the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).