Ford’s third generation hybrid system which sees nickel-metal hydride batteries replaced by lighter, more efficient lithium-ion batteries are expected to reduce the firm’s use of expensive and less-abundant rare earth minerals by up to 500,000 pounds a year (226.8 tonnes).
As the carmaker embarks on a major new product offensive, that consists of plans to launch five electrified vehicles by 2015, the reduction in use of rare earth minerals will have important implications for both financial and physical reasons, the firm says.
First, the cost is reduced by 30 per cent when compared to previous-generation hybrid batteries. Lithium-ion batteries are also 50 per cent lighter and 25 to 30 per cent smaller. All of this means better fuel economy for the carmaker’s new hybrid vehicles, including a projected 47 mpg fuel economy rating for Fusion Hybrid (US EPA economy standard) and an EPA-certified 47 mpg for C-MAX Hybrid. Among the rare earth metals used in the old nickel-metal-hydride batteries are neodymium, cerium, lanthanum and praseodymium-none of which are used in the new lithium-ion batteries.
Additionally, Ford has reduced its use of dysprosium by approximately 50 per cent in the magnets used in the hybrid system. Dysprosium is the most expensive rare earth metal used in Ford vehicles.
Rare earth metals are a set of 17 atomic elements in the periodic table. While some are indeed rare, others are plentiful within specific regions in the earth’s crust. These metals are used in many consumer products including mobile phones, LED televisions, computer screens and hybrid vehicle batteries.
“We’re continually looking to find ways to provide greater fuel efficiency as well as cost savings to customers of our hybrid vehicles, and the reduction of rare earth metals is a key part of this strategy,” said Chuck Gray, chief engineer, Global Core Engineering, Hybrid and Electric Vehicles.“The third-generation hybrid technology we are now using builds on our 20 years of electric vehicle innovations.”
The 30 per cent cut in battery costs has help Ford make the new new C-MAX Hybrid America’s most affordable hybrid utility vehicle, with prices starting from $25,995. A plug-in hybrid version of the C-Max, called the C-MAX Energi is also to launch in the US this autumn, and is projected to deliver 95 MPGe (EPA rating).
Ford’s electric and hybrid vehicle plans for the Europe include the launch of a Focus Electric in 2013.
Faye has been writing about cars and environmental issues since 2007. A suspected eco-warrior working on the corporate inside, Faye mainly likes the weird, quirky vehicles that show a distinct environmental advantage. Her ideal car has enough room to fit a bale of hay in the boot. When not working, she likes nothing better than to head out on her bicycle and explore the countryside.
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