General Motors Will Soon Source Rare Metals for EVs in North America

With plans to mine in California.
Brad Bergan
GM’s 255-kW, permanent magnet EV motor.General Motors  

The automotive pivot away from fossil fuels is gaining speed.

General Motors has signed a deal to extract rare metals for the motors of electric vehicles in North America, according to a Thursday press release from the automaker. Linking up with the Las Vegas-based MP Materials, the automaker will receive "U.S.-sourced and manufactured rare earth materials, alloy, and finished magnets for the electric motors" ideal for GM's forthcoming lineup of all-electric vehicles.

This could put GM in an advantageous position as international trade faces potentially difficult straits amid strained international relationships.

GM will mine for EV engine magnets in California

Electric motors use permanent magnets for power, some of which are roughly the size of a pack of playing cards, but they're generally made of rare earth metals. And these magnets are crucial for the motors to transform electricity into kinetic motion, which, in turn, powers and moves the vehicle. The problem is that most of these rare earth magnets are made of neodymium (NdFeB), which is mined and processed almost exclusively in China. Obviously, tensions are mounting between that country and the United States. This means automakers are nearing a point of absolute necessity when it comes to locking down local, non-disputed sources of key resources.

GM's plans to become an exclusively electric vehicle company by 2040 mean it needs to scale its production facilities to support the annual creation of millions of electric motors. That's a lot. And the firm's executives said the new agreement with MP Materials will function as a cornerstone achievement on the road to fielding sufficient materials to comprise its Ultium EV platform early enough to do it with North American resources by 2025. "I think most people outside our industry would be shocked to learn that there are virtually no factories in the U.S. building these magnets at scale," said GM's VP of Global Purchasing and Supply Chain Shilpan Amin. "Well that's about to change."

GM is unrolling an array of EV battery and material facilities

The automaker chose MP Materials because of its ideal location in addition to its ability to produce rare earth materials at levels GM feels is necessary for the coming decades. MP Materials both owns and operates a mine and processing facility for rare earth materials in Mountain Pass, California. Materials extracted there will be turned into an NdFeB alloy, in addition to magnets at the new production factory that's forthcoming in Fort Worth, Texas. The future plant will begin operations in 2024, at which time it'll produce roughly "1,000 tons of finished magnets per year," according to a report from The Verge. That much rare earth material could power roughly 500,000 electric motors every year.

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This comes on the heels of the other recent announcements from GM, including plans to spend more than $4 billion to build two battery factories, in addition to a cathode factory, on the North American continent. The firm also landed a deal to source lithium (crucial for EV batteries) from geothermal deposits in the U.S. And a forthcoming 300,000-square-foot (roughly 28,000-square-meter) battery research facility in Michigan will also enable the development of rapid-charge, long-lasting EV batteries. We're still in the early stages of the industry pivot away from fossil fuels, but it looks like GM is getting serious about sustainable transportation.

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