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UK investors back startup making EV motors without rare earths

Image: AEM

Advanced Electric Machines (AEM), the UK-based startup that makes electric vehicle motors without rare earths or copper – and therefore 100 percent recyclable – announced it had raised $29 million to scale up manufacturing output.

The Series A funding round was led by Legal & General Capital, a unit of British financial services and asset management company Legal & General, and Barclays Sustainable Impact Capital, the UK investment bank's initiative investing in climate startups.

AEM chief executive James Widmer said the new funds will allow the company to begin production of an EV motor free of copper for both passenger cars and commercial vehicles, while adding that AEM's motors are capable of boosting an EV's range by at least 10 percent. 

The absence of copper makes AEM motors easier to recycle, Widner said, pointing out that EV motors made with rare-earth permanent magnets contain around 10 kg of copper, while rare-earth-free alternatives often contain twice that amount. But it is harder to recycle motors containing copper, making AEM's aluminum-and-steel engines easier to melt in a furnace.

AEM already has a commercial rare-earth-free motor deployed on electric buses and other vehicles across Europe, North America and Asia, Widner said.

Automakers across Europe, the US and Japan are seeking to make EV motors without rare earths to lower their dependence on China. The Middle Kingdom dominates the mining and processing of the group of 17 silvery-white metals critical to electronic technology and industrial processes, and has been known to restrict their supply during political standoffs.

AEM's other successes include an agreement with Bentley, Volkswagen's top luxury marque, to create an e-axle free of rare earth minerals which will use next-generation integrated power electronics to create what AEM calls "market-leading power density and packaging characteristics".

AEM has also worked with Bentley – along with other British partners such as TTPi – on the APEX motor technology project. 

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