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DN Insight: What Rare Earth Shortages Mean for Engineers, Part 3

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Beth Stackpole
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In pursuit of alternatives
Beth Stackpole   4/10/2012 6:30:14 AM
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Glad to see there is a real effort underway to create and work to manufacture nanoscale structures that can serve as alternatives to rare earth materials given all the controversy over their ability. Obviously, as we have seen from the pursuit of alternative fuel and EV battery technologies, this kind of innovation process takes time and with every win, there is a setback. All part of the process, however, and I'm glad to see that are myriad efforts underway. The wider range of projects on the table, the better the shot that one of them will be on the money.

apresher
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Impact on Motors
apresher   4/10/2012 8:03:19 AM
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Kristin, Excellent article.  Any idea how much price premium % the shortage of REEs is adding to permanent magnet motors?  I'm curious how much of an impact the shortage might have in this area. Also, wondering if the performance of the new materials will meet or surpass current performance standards.  Thanks.

naperlou
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Re: In pursuit of alternatives
naperlou   4/10/2012 9:04:55 AM
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Beth, this is a good example of adversity spurring innovation.  While some of the techniques and technologies may not pan out, they may well lead to new discoveries themselves.  I am especially impressed by the efforts in nano materials that this entails. 

naperlou
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Re: Impact on Motors
naperlou   4/10/2012 9:44:45 AM
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apresher, that is an interesting question.  Another way to ask that is to ask what is the typical percentage of the cost of a motor that the magnets comprise.  Is there any rule of thumb on that, Kristin?

Rob Spiegel
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Re: In pursuit of alternatives
Rob Spiegel   4/10/2012 12:38:35 PM
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At some point, rare earth elements will be plentiful again. Mines in the U.S., Australia and Afghanistan will begin producing plenty of materials. By then, however, alternatives may be available. Speculators may be shooting themselves in their collective foot.

naperlou
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Re: In pursuit of alternatives
naperlou   4/10/2012 2:54:02 PM
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One interesting point to remember is that the mines in the US closed down becuase prices had dropped so much.  What happens next time they drop?  Do we become dependent on another supplier that will manipulate the price for their own purposes?

Charles Murray
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Re: In pursuit of alternatives
Charles Murray   4/10/2012 3:24:49 PM
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I agree, Naperlou. And the only way we can get past the adversity is to have lots of competitive projects motivated by a sense of urgency. As a rule, materials innovation doesn't happen in a rush.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: In pursuit of alternatives
Rob Spiegel   4/10/2012 3:32:52 PM
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That's a really good question, Naperlou. With new sources found in Afghanistan, a mine again active in Australia and working getting down to create alternatives to rare earth elements, it seems inevitable the supply will exceed demand in a few short years.

Kristin Lewotsky
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Re: Impact on Motors
Kristin Lewotsky   4/10/2012 7:18:19 PM
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No question that prices are up. On the motor side, I tend to talk to engineers rather than sales folks, so I don't have exact numbers.Last November, IMS Research analyst Jenelea Howell predicted that the average price of servomotors would jump by 9.3% in 2012. That number may have softened because of stabilizing prices for REEs, but the materials are still up significantly from their price of four or five years ago. In some cases, manufacturers have written the cost into their contracts, along the lines of the fuel surcharge that airport limo services began using a few years ago. Lenze, For example, has a page on their website explaining a fuel surcharge that scales for increasing neodymium and dysprosium prices relative to their March 2011 values.

Kristin Lewotsky
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Re: In pursuit of alternatives
Kristin Lewotsky   4/10/2012 7:21:21 PM
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That's a good question, naperlou. I have a query out to one of my motor guys to see what he has to say about it. Obviously, that rule of thumb is likely to be wildly distorted over the past several years, which explains the introduction of the magnet surcharge.

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