Environmental arguments aside, the weak link in the electric car story might be a soft metal called neodymium. You may have heard of Nd:YAG lasers. The Nd stands for neodymium. Another major use is in permanent magnets, such as those used in electric cars. China controls most neodymium production and is now restricting exports and boosting tariffs. As a result of China’s actions and demand from electric car makers, neodymium prices are now close to $90/kg, up from $19.12 in 2009.
Efforts to find new global sources for the metal are accelerating. A Japanese joint venture will look for neodymium in Vietnam. An article in the Denver Post says there is a new “gold rush” for rare earth metals such as neodymium in Colorado and other Western states.
And not surprisingly, engineers are at work trying to improve the performance of induction motors in which magnetism is created by applying an electrical charge. The problem with induction motors is their poor efficiency and their large size compared to motors using permanent magnets. Continental AG, the largest noncaptive electric motor supplier for autos, is also working on alternative technical solutions.
A tiny humanoid robot has safely piloted a small plane all the way from cold start to takeoff, landing and coming to a full stop on the plane's designated runway. Yes, it happened in a pilot training simulation -- but the research team isn't far away from doing it in the real world.
Some in the US have welcomed 3D printing for boosting local economies and bringing some offshored manufacturing back onshore. Meanwhile, China is wielding its power of numbers, and its very different relationships between government, education, and industry, to kickstart a homegrown industry.
You can find out practically everything you need to know about engineering plastics as alternatives to other materials at the 2014 IAPD Plastics Expo. Admission is free for engineers, designers, specifiers, and OEMs, as well as students and faculty.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.