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back to article Hitachi spins up 'leccy fan motor sans rare earths

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 …

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Facepalm

Improving energy efficiency to counter global warming

Hitachi should read Lewis' articles then they'd know that global warming was nothing to worry about.

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Anonymous Coward

Amazing that got so many downvotes...

Are those simply piqued Lewis fans, or does El Reg really have that many paid-up members of the Heartland Institute?

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Re: Amazing that got so many downvotes...

"3" down-votes is "many" on your planet, is it? Who are you—Baldrick?

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And the beauty of capitalism is ......

........ the prices for the products will remain the same to the consumer as if they had rare earths in. Patent lawyers will see to it.

All that will happen is the profit will be moved from China to some courtroom.

Still, at least the environment gains I suppose, so not all bad.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: And the beauty of capitalism is ......

The beauty of capitalism is the continous development of products caused by competition. I grew up in Hungary during the communist years and believe me without competition which is the basic difference between the capitalist and communist systems you could not even comment about this article, because if it was not for the beauty of capitalism we would not even have internet.

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Stop

Re: And the beauty of capitalism is ......

If we really did have capitalism, instead of the 'mixed' system we actually do have, who would you register a patent with?

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Re: And the beauty of capitalism is ......

Actually, capitalism had nothing to do with it - the Internet arose because of the needs of academics, building on work done by the military. Capitalism just made the whole thing virtually worthless.

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Silver badge

What was that about necessity being the mother of invention?

We need rare-earths. We don't have rare-earths. Hitachi cleverly figured out a way around the problem.

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Bronze badge

Re: What was that about necessity being the mother of invention?

But you can build an electric motor without magnets at all.

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Meh

As previously linked...

http://atimes.com/atimes/China/NC24Ad01.html

"In any case, in a few years the dreaded Chinese rare earth monopoly will have collapsed, with the assistance of the Chinese themselves, and the free world can enjoy its hybrid vehicles, its smartphones, its Tomahawk missiles, and its night vision goggles free of the anxiety that China will make the rare earth world go dark."

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Ru
Silver badge

Maybe I'm just being daft,

but this particular item is a fairly specialist bit of kit (an enormous synchronous motor). Most industrial motor applications (excluding robotic and CNC axis positioning servos) presumably just use boring old 3-phase async AC motors which don't even need normal magnets, let alone rare earth ones. We're not quite out of the rare earth woods yet.

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Boffin

Specialist kit?

At least half of current rare earth usage is in consumer and business electronics. Only a few percent is in industrial and automotive electric motors -- but Hitachi, Toyota, and Nissan naturally want to reduce that to nil, and have all recently announced efficient rare-earth-free motor designs.

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Silver badge

"global market share of around 97 per cent"

That means they produce 97%, not that 97% of the stuff in the earth's crust happens to be in China. There's plenty of rare earths everywhere else, only it's cheaper to extract them in China because of low labour costs and a, shall, we say, rather cavalier approach to environmental standards.

Of course getting them anywhere else would be more expensive, but I doubt that would affect individual bits of kit that much, a device such as a smartphone, TV etc etc would only contain a few micrograms of rare earths

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Thumb Up

Re: "global market share of around 97 per cent"

"Rare earth miner Molycorp (NYSE:MCP) announced Monday that its proven and probable reserves of rare-earth minerals at its Mountain Pass, California operation have increased by 36 percent."

http://www.proactiveinvestors.com/companies/news/27431/molycorps-rare-earth-reserves-at-mountain-pass-increase-by-36-27431.html

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Nothing rare about rare earth

There are huge desposits in Canada and Australia. But digging up toxic heavy metals with rock grinders is not kind to one's lungs. In the first world theres understandable health and safety concerns which makes them expensive to mine. China doesn't have the same worries about its staff with its unlimited supply of willing men with shovels, so is able to undercut the other countries. The claim about improving environment conditions isn't a wild statement.

So its not that China has the supply of rare earth minerals, just that they are prepared to dig them up at a cost people will buy.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Nothing rare about rare earth

...

So its not that China has the supply of rare earth minerals, just that they are prepared to dig them up at the cost of people.

Fixed that for you.

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Silver badge

Re: Nothing rare about rare earth

BOTH apply. The only way you can make rare earths cheap enough to be economically viable is to use an inexpensive mining resource. China has that inexpensive mining resource (a surplus of desperate people). In their eyes, it's killing two canaries with one mine: brutal but true.

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Anonymous Coward

@AC 15:51 Re: Nothing rare about rare earth

"...at the cost of people." Doesn't appear to bother the insatiable consumer appetite, or the WTO for that matter.

As for "Where's your monopoly now, China?", well that would be in exactly the same place as yesterday.

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Boffin

Undersea deposits, Alternate land deposits??????

Apparently, there are undersea deposits with much greater concentrations than those found in China. There are also large undeveloped land based deposits in Australia, India, Vietnam and other Asian countries.

Since these minerals are frequently found in volcanic vents undersea, they are very deep but Japan is looking at robotic mining methods. Where those volcanic deposits have been pushed above ground, they can be more easily mined. Extracting the minerals from ore is the problem as they have to be disolved with toxic acids and reacted to extract only the desired elements, then oxidizing furnaces create the actual compounds that are required. The whole production path is fraught with environmental and energy issues.

http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/332099/title/Rare_earth_elements_plentiful_in_ocean_sediments

Y. Kato et al. Deep-sea mud in the Pacific Ocean as a potential resource for rare-earth elements. Nature Geoscience. Published online July 3, 2011. doi:10.1038/NGEO1185.

http://www.ggg.gl/investor-information/in-the-news/s-korea-joins-race-for-rare-earths/

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Anonymous Coward

No shortage of rare earths

Rare Earths are all over the planet. Part of the reason they are called 'earths' is that they bind with substances in the crust. The reason China has a near monopoly is that they are found with radium.

So the radium is in the ground - harmless. You dig it up and take out the rare earths. You would think that you could put the radium back in the ground where it would be exactly as dangerous as it was before. But no. In western countries, this common substance is now treated as nuclear wastes that must be 'protected from the environment' for millions of years. And if you don't deal with it, there are plenty of environmental groups willing to sue you.

The rare earth 'shortage' will vanish at exactly the same time as we get sane laws about dealing with low level radioactive wastes.

Warm regards, Rick.

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Boffin

Disingenuous

Your point about the widespread nature of rare earth oxides is true to a point, but the fact is that discovered minable concentrations are less common than for most other ores. US and world resources are contained primarily in bastnäsite and monazite. Bastnäsite deposits in China and the United States constitute the largest percentage of the world's rare-earth economic resources, while monazite deposits in Australia, Brazil, China, India, Malaysia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and the US constitute the second largest segment. The remaining resources (apatite, cheralite, eudialyte, loparite, phosphorites, rare-earth-bearing (ion adsorption) clays, secondary monazite, spent uranium solutions, and xenotime) are still not felt to be profitable.

Add the fact that the profit-driven US industry drops out of any business as soon as it can be acquired more cheaply from China, and it's no wonder that China is now responsible for over 95% of the world rare earth production.

Your canard about interference from meddling environmental groups is simply disingenuous. When California's Mountain Pass mine closed down, they cited competition from China as the primary reason. Their only run-in with environmental issues stemmed from repeated spills of radioactive waste water; and all that cost them was a cleanup order and a tiny $1.4m fine. They're now back in business under Molycorp, and aren't being picketed by the Sierra Club.

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Megaphone

Re: Disingenuous

"Add the fact that the profit-driven US industry drops out of any business as soon as it can be acquired more cheaply from China, and it's no wonder that China is now responsible for over 95% of the world rare earth production."

Thank you. That is the reason that 'rare' Earth's are produced in China. It's the same reason that iPhones are produced in China; The mega corp doesn't want to do anything if it can outsource it for less elsewhere. Everyone collectively outsourced RE production to China by closing or ignoring local solutions, and now teh same are complaining about it.

I also see lots of people complaining that "all the manufacturing jobs have gone to China", but they are all the people who are so proud of all their material things that they could only afford BECAUSE they were made in China, and it is these people buying the cheaper Chinese things that is pushing production there.

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Bronze badge

Recycling?

At some point, recovering rare earth metals from scrap electrical/electronic equipment is going to start paying off. And we can stop shipping old equipment to third world countries where kids burn insulation off wiring in open fires to get the metal.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Recycling?

They already do this with gold. BBC's QI had an episode (called Green) on this recently. Not surprisingly the recyling centre is in China.

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