It seems those amazing ‘fuel efficient’ hybrids are guzzlers of a different type!
The Prius hybrid automobile is popular for its fuel efficiency, but its electric motor and battery guzzle rare earth metals, a little-known class of elements found in a wide range of gadgetry and consumer goods. That makes Toyota’s market-leading gasoline-electric hybrid car and other similar vehicles vulnerable to a supply crunch predicted by experts as China, the world’s dominant rare earths producer, limits exports while global demand grows.
Worldwide demand for rare earths, covering 15 entries on the periodic table of elements, is expected to exceed supply by some 40,000 tonnes annually in several years unless major new production sources are developed. One promising U.S. source is a rare earths mine expected to reopen in California by 2012.
A Toyota spokeswoman in Los Angeles declined comment on its resource development plans. But media accounts and industry blogs have reported recently that Toyota has looked at rare earth possibilities in Canada and Vietnam.