Japanese researchers said on Thursday they had developed a hybrid vehicle motor that is free of rare earths, the minerals that are now almost exclusively produced by China.
The news from a state-backed research group and a university comes days after industry sources said China had temporarily halted crucial rare earth exports to Japan amid a bitter territorial dispute.
Magnets made from rare earths have so far been considered indispensable for motors in gasoline-electric hybrid and electric vehicles produced by Japanese auto makers such as Toyota, Mitsubishi and Honda.
Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organisation (NEDO) and Hokkaido University said they had now developed a motor using magnets which are commonly used in electronics parts.
"As the technology uses only inexpensive ferrite magnets, it is expected to boost Japan’s competitiveness in the development of next-generation automobiles contested more and more fiercely in recent years," they said in a statement.
Kenji Kobayashi, of NEDO, said "ferrite magnets are very cheap as they are mostly iron."
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