Issue: Apr 2011

Copper: An Alternative to Rare Earth Metals in EVs

by Jon Knox

Copper is an effective substitute for rare earth magnets in motors used in electric and hybrid electric vehicles. While the decreasing supply of accessible rare earth elements may present a challenge to high-tech industries, electric vehicles and hybrids can rely on copper as an efficient replacement.

The International Copper Association (ICA) is working globally with manufacturers to develop innovative copper rotor motors for use in electric and hybrid vehicles. Today, most electric vehicles use rare earth permanent magnet motors in their electrical propulsion systems. Induction motors made from copper not only act as an effective replacement, they offer lower cost, similar performance, efficiency, noise reduction and durability when compared to permanent magnet motors. Copper induction motors can be a “drop-in” replacement to some permanent magnet technology designs. The ICA estimates that the initial savings for a typical 50kW motor is $100 considering the costs of magnets, copper, and sensors.

Many of today’s high-tech and clean energy technologies rely on rare earth magnets, which are refined from rare earth minerals. Currently, China holds 95 percent of global production capacity for the rare earth minerals and dominates rare earth magnet production. China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is enforcing tight limits on production and export of these materials.

A core component of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Critical Elements strategy is the identification of substitute materials and improved recycling procedures. Copper is an abundant material that is infinitely recyclable. Copper is not only energy efficient and cost-effective, but it promotes a clean energy economy and a sustainable environment.

Copper Rotor Motors
Tesla Motors, a leading manufacturer of electric vehicles (EVs) and EV powertrain components, uses the copper rotor at the core of its vehicle propulsion systems. Manufacturers such as Tesla have successfully turned to copper motor rotors to improve performance. J.P. Strauber, vice president at Tesla, stated, “In a world where we are building millions of electric vehicles, I think the copper motor rotor will be the technology of choice to make that happen.” Tesla’s high-performance copper rotor motor delivers 300 horsepower and weighs only 100 pounds. This approach uses only copper and steel in the motor rotor and the rotor stator; no rare earth materials are involved.

For more information on how copper and copper alloys promote sustainability, visit  

The International Copper Association is the leading organization for promoting the use of copper worldwide. The ICA increases awareness and usage of copper by communicating the unique attributes that make this sustainable element an essential contributor to the formation of life, to advances in science and technology, and to a higher standard of living throughout the world. The ICA’s 38 members represent a majority of the world's refined copper output and are among the largest copper producers, fabricators, and wire and cable companies.

Send your comment:
Name: Email:
Phone: Town & Country:

Automotive Industries


Thank You