As the world turns increasingly to hybrids and EVs for its transportation needs, the issue of where we source vital components like rare earth magnets becomes more and more significant. China currently dominates the rare earth metal market – a fact that’s deeply uncomfortable to many in the US given the countries’ fraught relationship, and less-than-ideal from a shipping perspective. General Motors, which just started delivering the GMC Hummer EV Edition 1 and has a slew of additional battery-electric models waiting in the wings, might have a solution for its Ultium motor magnet needs.
This month, GM announced two big moves to reduce its reliance on foreign rare earth magnet and permanent magnet sources: a long-term supply agreement with MP Materials, and a deal with Germany’s Vacuumschmelze (VAC). MP Materials operates the Mountain Pass mine and processing facility in California, which is the only active, scaled rare earth production site in America. Following the company’s agreement with GM, MP has announced that it will build a new production facility in Fort Worth, Texas for churning out processed metal, neodymium-iron-boron (NdFeB) alloy, and rare earth magnets for use in the GMC Hummer EV, Cadillac Lyriq, Chevrolet Silverado EV, and other GM EVs built on the Ultium platform.
MP Materials shares GM’s concerns for sustainability; the Mountain Pass facility recycles more than a billion liters of water each year, and its new Fort Worth facility will operate by recycling waste generated during alloy and rare earth magnet production back into the process. The facility will start operations in 2023.
Meanwhile, Vacuumschmelze (VAC) – the largest producer of permanent magnets in the western hemisphere, with nearly a century of experience – has agreed to supply permanent magnets from a new factory to be built somewhere in the US. The new VAC factory is slated to start production in 2024, creating hundreds of jobs supplying permanent magnets for the Ultium motor units that will drive a range of EV models, including the GMC Hummer EV, Chevrolet Silverado EV, and Cadillac Lyriq.
Permanent magnets and rare earth magnets are crucial parts in EV motors, converting the electric current flowing through each motor’s copper windings into sweet, beautiful torque. In the case of the GMC Hummer EV, GM has advertised a peak torque figure of 11,500 lb-ft for the top-spec model, facilitating a 0-to-60 time of just 3 seconds.