Updates to this story
Japan is doing its best to put a dampener on relying on the factory across the way, China, by developing and using technologies which do not rely on rare earth metals.
China's got the upper hand on the world with its rare earth metals, which are required for fancy technology we take for granted, and as recently as June this year said it doesn't want to hand them out willy-nilly. Japanese manufacturing giant Hitachi doesn't like the idea of being under the thumb and has developed a kind of motor which uses ferric oxide, a cheaper and easier to find alternative to the likes of dysprosium and neodymium.
It will use these in hybrid car manufacturing - which until now it was estimated that it takes between 1 and 1.5kg of rare earth metals to build. Hitachi reckons its ferrite magnet motor will do just the trick though a bit of technical and engineering wizardry was needed to get it up to scratch. At first its magnetic force was about 50 percent weaker than the standard rare earth model, reports Nikkei (subscription), but Hitachi managed to make improvements on the motor structure around the rotator to magnify its power.
Hitachi now claims that its home grown alternative works at almost the same performance level - but with power consumption running at 10 percent lower. At the moment the motor isn't large enough for vehicles, but Hitachi's on the case. In the meantime it is planning to begin implementing its ferrite motors in smaller kit like air conditioners.
It's not just Hitachi that's been worried about the powerhouse across the water. Daikin Industries and Osaka Prefecture University have been working together to develope an iron and ferrite magnet component. It can only generate 5kw in output power at the moment and is a tenth the size of a motor used in hybrid cars - but it can reach the necessary rotations for use in vehicles.
Daikin and Osaka Prefecture University are looking to build a unit with 20kw output by the end of the next financial year, which could potentially have commercial applications.