Japanese high-tech firm Hitachi (IW1000/22) Wednesday unveiled an electric motor that does not use "rare earths," aiming to cut costs and reduce dependence on imports of the scarce minerals from China.
The prototype 11 kilowatt motor does not use magnets containing rare earths and is expected to go into commercial production in 2014, the company said.
Hitachi started work on the project in 2008. Other Japanese firms, including automaker Toyota (IW1000/5), have been working toward the same goal, spurred on by high prices of the minerals.
Permanent magnet motors usually contain rare earth such as neodymium and dysprosium, and are in increasing demand for the growing number of hybrid and electric vehicles.
Japan has been seeking to reduce its dependence on rare earths and to diversify sourcing to cut its reliance on China, which controls more than 90% of global supplies and has moved to restrict production and exports.
Japan was hit when China temporarily cut off exports in 2010 during a territorial row between Asia's two largest economies.
The United States, Japan and the European Union lodged a joint complaint with the World Trade Organization in March, claiming China is unfairly benefiting its own industries by restricting exports of the sought-after minerals.
Rare earths are used to make a wide range of high-tech products, including powerful magnets, batteries, LED lights, electric cars, iPods, lasers, wind turbines and missiles.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012