Magnets are increasingly ubiquitous in modern life. Not only do they play a crucial role in EVs, they are also used in cochlear implants and in all sorts of surgical instruments (which in turn can be controlled remotely). Rollercoasters would struggle to operate without magnets as would rockets & satellites.

We learn from this piece from the BBC that one of the reasons magnets are becoming ever more popular is that key material used to make magnets is becoming easier to access. Matthew Swallow is technical product manager for Bunting Magnetics in the UK: “Mr Swallow says that, even during the past 10 years or so, the availability of higher grade magnets made with the rare earth element neodymium has improved. For such magnets designed to cope with temperatures up to 200C, a grade of N35 used to be the maximum. But now N52 grade versions are commercially available.

“You can literally make the magnet 60% less massive and get the same level of performance,” explains Mr Swallow.”

Better magnets (thanks to higher grade neodymium) means greater energy efficiency. The BBC says: “In an electric motor, a magnetic field helps an internal coil to spin. This might be used to drive an axle and turn the wheels of an electric car, for example. Higher grade magnets mean motors that run more efficiently and cars that weigh slightly less overall. The careful addition of a small amount of dysprosium, another rare earth element, is one way to improve a magnet’s efficiency.”

However, there is one small problem with all this – China dominates the global production of magnets. Why so? “One reason why China dominates global production of these magnets is financial incentives, says Ross Embleton, senior analyst for metals & mining – rare earths at Wood Mackenzie. Rare earth permanent magnet material is subject to a 13% VAT discount on export from the country, and provincial governments give support on energy costs, for example, which also helps buoy up magnet-making facilities.

“It’s a really, really challenging industry to compete in if you’re outside of China,” says Mr Embleton.”

If magnets are critical for EVs and China dominates the production of magnets, it shouldn’t be too hard to guess which country will continue to dominate EV production.

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