'Eco destructive' electric car motors need to change

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Carmakers and EU legislators are pushing electric cars as the future of eco-friendly, sustainable transport – yet their motors are made using rare earth metals, the mining of which is "incredibly destructive to the environment."

They're the words of James Widmer of Newcastle University, who is part of a team looking to replace these rare earth metals with steel, which is cheaper, less damaging to the environment and more widely available.

The electric car is lauded because it produces no carbon dioxide emissions at the tailpipe, although its total life cycle impact on the environment – including the mining of raw materials – is not always considered.

The team, which comprises engineers from technology companies as well as Newcastle University, has attracted £518,000 in Government funding to develop a low cost, high volume electric motor that uses no expensive rare earth material.

It's estimated that the electric vehicle market will increase from the two million sold globally in 2010 to almost 50 million in 2020.

"If we are to pursue electric and hybrid vehicles as a truly greener option then we need to look not only at the fuel but also the materials we are using to develop the various components," says Widmer.

The project's official aim is to create a snappily titled 'high torque density switched reluctance drive system for low carbon vehicles'. The steely mythical motor should be ready for volume production in four years' time, say the project leaders.

By which time, according to Back II The Future, all cars will fly and be powered by banana skins and flat lager. We can't wait.