Panic! Hybrids Using Up Rare Earth Elements

It’s been all over the news lately, including, that hybrid vehicles are causing a shortage of rare metals. What? Is the era of greener driving over before it’s begun? Let’s take a look.

First, it’s not rare metals that are involved; it’s rare earth elements, which aren’t that rare. These elements, of which there are 15 on the periodic table, aren’t often found by themselves in nature. They’re usually in other elements, and it’s these other elements which are scarce. The rare earth elements are pretty common in trace amounts throughout the earth’s core, according to Popular Science.

Which rare earth elements are we talking about? Here’s a list:

  • Neodymium: part of an alloy used in magnets in electric motors in hybrid cars and wind turbines
  • Terbium and dysprosium: used to keep the neodymium magnetic at high temperatures
  • Lanthanum: used in hybrid car batteries

Most of these metals currently come from China, though California and Canada are looking into mining for them as well. What’s a well-meaning green driver to do? Remember that everything comes from somewhere, and think before you ditch the old for the shiny and new.

Tags: , , ,