Rare Earths: BMW’s fifth-generation REE-free electric drivetrain

BMW remains focussed on gradually lowering the proportion of critical raw materials that are used in its electric vehicle (EV) models. Besides reducing the use of cobalt in the battery cells, BMW has set a target to launch its fifth-generation electric drive trains in 2021, free of rare earth elements (REEs).

Roskill view:

Hybrid EVs and pure battery EVs use between 1kg and 3kg of neodymium-iron-boron (NdFeB) magnets in standard drivetrain motors. The formulation of rare earth NdFeB magnets includes varying amounts of other rare earths praseodymium, dysprosium and cerium in place of neodymium depending on the specification and application of the magnets. 

Electric vehicle drivetrains require high-quality and high power-to-weight ratio magnet formulations to increase the efficiency in converting electrical energy stored in batteries into mechanical energy. Rare earth permanent magnets are the strongest known permanent magnet formulations on the commercial market and allow vehicle manufacturers to optimise the performance, range and cost of EVs and their battery pack. 

Roskill’s rare earth and automotive datasets highlight that, in 2018, over 90% of all EV drivetrain motors use rare earth permanent magnets. Currently, the low base of automotive electrification has drivetrain motors accounting for less than 10% of NdFeB demand. Roskill forecasts that the electrification of the automotive industry will increase the share of drivetrain motors to over 20% by 2021, when BMW is set to release its fifth-generation drivetrain technology.

As of 2017, neodymium supply tightened, and Roskill estimates the neodymium supply-demand balance to remain tight throughout the next decade, requiring the ramp up in REE production to keep up with demand over the longer-term. Non-rare-earth drivetrain technologies may help to mitigate short-term supply deficits; however, NdFeB magnets remain part of this generation of EVs. As a result, Roskill expects NdFeB magnets to remain the leading growth market for rare earths over the next decade.

Roskill’s NEW Rare Earths: Global Industry, Markets & Outlook report was published in December 2018 and includes supply, demand and price forecasts out to 2028, along with profiles of major producers, processors and end-users. Click here to download the brochure and sample pages, or to access further information.

To discuss the rare earths market with Roskill, contact David Merriman: merriman@roskill.com or Nils Backeberg: nils@roskill.com