Consortium develops rare-earth-free drivetrain for hybrid & electric vehicles

September 21, 2011 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
A group of UK specialist engineering technology companies has won funding support for new research to be undertaken into the development of the next generation of electric drivetrain systems that aims at reducing the dependency on rare earth metals.

Gateshead-based Sevcon Ltd is leading a collaborative project that includes Cummins Generator Technologies of Stamford, Lincolnshire and Newcastle University's Power Electronics and Drives Research Group to develop an electric traction drive for use in hybrid and pure electric vehicles. The group has secured over £500,000 in matched funding from the from the government-backed Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) in the latest round of national support for work on new low carbon vehicle technologies.

The team will work on the development of a 'no rare earth metals' electric drive system for EVs using advanced high torque density switched reluctance motor technology.

While the demand for hybrid electric vehicles is set to increase globally over the next ten years, the ability to meet this demand is being challenged by the supply and availability of the rare earth magnets used in the motors that drive them. Rare earth materials permit the design of compact, powerful motors. The problem is that almost all rare earth deposits globally are located in China which controls pricing and export.

The project being undertaken by the Sevcon-led group will look to overcome this situation by developing new low carbon vehicle drivetrain technology that will use steel to replace the rare earth magnets used in motors.

Sevcon already supplies motor control technology to the international EV market. The advanced design being developed by the team will also replace traditional electronic control systems with new technology based on cutting edge power electronics.

Other design goals include cost competitiveness and the potential for the drivetrain to be produced in high quantities. It is anticipated that the project should be ready for volume production within four years.

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