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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
The thing to keep in mind is that the mineral pricing is a two way street, especially when you are talking about the fact that we in the US have some of the largest deposits of some of these rare earths. The associated problem, and something that we can do do something about to minimized the games that other countries are playing, is to encourage the development of our own natural resources. The current environment is not conducive to that.
Misconception #12: Mountain Pass stopped producing rare earth elements in 2002
Mountain Pass has never stopped producing rare earth elements in the facility's almost 58 years of operation. However, in 2002 mining of fresh ore to feed the processing systems came to a halt due to a lack of tailings basin capacity and of a new permit to expand the old basin or build a new one. After numerous upgrades and revisions to resolve the issues, Molycorp is poised to restart mining of fresh ore as early as 2011 to ensure its mill can be fed by the middle of 2012.
<<At some point, rare earth elements will be plentiful again...speculators may be shooting themselves in their collective foot.>>
I think they figure that out late last fall, which is why the price started dropping. Prices got so high that more and more engineers at all levels of the food chain started looking for alternatives, Which may demand drop. All of a sudden, The speculators got worried they'd be stuck with a bunch of metal in a warehouse, so they started dumping inventory onto the market.The price of both neodymium and dysprosium are severalfold higher than they were in 2010, even, but they're down 30 and 40% from where they were at the height last summer.
Good points, Kristin. Saudi Arabia is facing a similar fate. They have voiced concerns that if oil stays above $80 per barrel, the world will seek alternatives. They apparently wanted to keep oil down at $80, but they have been unsuccessful. At the high rates, they're correct, the world will find alternatives.
I agree, Roddalitz. The advantage of replacing the materials is that they could find a replacement that is readily available and perhaps superior. If there's one thing we're learned from oil, shortages will just keep coming back and coming back.
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.
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.
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?
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.
It's amazing the influence that commodity markets is playing on design and manufacturing. It would be great if supply and demand, rather than external factors, would be the driving force in the cost of materials such as rare earth magnets. Anything close to an 8-9% increase in the price of servomotors for 2012 would be significant.
Rare Earth "Shortage" ???Rare earths are NOT rare, to the contrary, most are more common in the earth's crust than Copper. However, 'rare earths' are in the Lanthanum group of elements and therefore their ores are often comingled with radioactive elements such as Uranium and Thorium.As environmental rules were enacted in the 70's and 80's, rare earth refining was foolishly outsourced to nations without pesky EPA and OSHA regulations.
Our "Free Trade" policy exacerbated this outsourcing, so that today 90% of the refining capacity has migrated to nations that frankly don't care about worker exposure to radiation or what environmental damage is wrought when the tailings are dumped in streams and rivers.
A 'Green Tariff' on imports which are produced in facilities which do not abide by effective environmental or workplace safety regulations would level the playing field between offshore and domestic suppliers, and the increased competition would prevent artificial 'shortages' of these strategic materials.
The green tariff is a pretty good idea, David. I could create a playing field that is closer to level. Yet I can't see it happening in our current political environment. Like any commodity, rare earths will sort themselves out as mines across the world are sparked into action by higher prices.
RE materials, such as neodymium and dysprosium (magnet material), are very rare in practical minable reserves (period). Yet, the small number of electric vehicles and wind turbines with high performance PM motors has been one reason for making the price of these RE materials increase dramatically. If EV and Wind turbines become more common as anticipated, there is question whether all the practical minable reserves (including reopening mines) can satisfy the demand. This is the subject worth looking into!