August 16, 2022

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GM’s 108-kW permanent magnet EV motor for front wheel drive. GM Permanent magnets are a...
GM’s 108-kW permanent magnet EV motor for front wheel drive. GM

Permanent magnets are a key component of EV motors and renewable energy tech, but around 90% of the rare earth metals required to build these magnets are sourced in China. And that’s a big problem for manufacturers, not just because of growing political tension, but because demand for permanent magnets is skyrocketing. Now, it seems GM has a simple solution to the problem.

In collaboration with MP Materials, GM will develop a domestic supply chain for rare earth metals and permanent magnets. An existing mine in Mountain Pass (CA) will source rare earth materials and turn them into neodymium (NdFeB) alloy. The processed alloy will then find its way to a magnet manufacturing facility in Fort Worth (TX), which GM plans to erect by 2024.

GM estimates that this supply chain will produce 1,000 tons of permanent magnets each year. That’s enough magnets to build 500,000 EV motors, which should supplement the imported supply from China. Electric cars use multiple motors, after all, and GM will produce way more than 200,000 EVs each year by the time its domestic magnet manufacturing scheme is in full swing (likely 2025 or later).

To be honest, GM’s interest in domestic production isn’t much of a surprise. It’s part of a larger trend among automakers who are frustrated by supply shortages, trade embargoes, and of course, creeping political tension between the U.S. and China. GM and rivals like Ford have taken several steps to reduce their reliance on global trade, building plants to produce batteries, cathode materials, and semiconductors at home.

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Again, the U.S. supply chains developed by these automakers won’t replace imports or global trade. But they mark a strange shift in vehicle manufacturing that could protect the U.S. economy and, of course, give the U.S. government more leverage when enforcing embargoes or boycotts.

Environmental and community health is also part of this conversation—rare earth metals are actually quite common, but mining and processing the stuff is a dirty job. As domestic production of EV components continues to increase, people in the United States may experience consequences that were “exported” to other countries decades ago.

Source: GM