HOME  |  NEWS  |  BLOGS  |  MESSAGES  |  FEATURES  |  VIDEOS  |  WEBINARS  |  INDUSTRIES  |  FOCUS ON FUNDAMENTALS
  |  REGISTER  |  LOGIN  |  HELP
Blogs
Blog
DN Insight: What Rare Earth Shortages Mean for Engineers, Part 3
4/10/2012

In the US, the Department of Energy has identified REEs critical to a range of application areas like renewable energy and electric vehicles.   (Source: US Department of Energy)
In the US, the Department of Energy has identified REEs critical to a range of application areas like renewable energy and electric vehicles.
(Source: US Department of Energy)

Return to Article

View Comments: Threaded|Newest First|Oldest First
Beth Stackpole
User Rank
Blogger
In pursuit of alternatives
Beth Stackpole   4/10/2012 6:30:14 AM
NO RATINGS
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.

naperlou
User Rank
Blogger
Re: In pursuit of alternatives
naperlou   4/10/2012 9:04:55 AM
NO RATINGS
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. 

Rob Spiegel
User Rank
Blogger
Re: In pursuit of alternatives
Rob Spiegel   4/10/2012 12:38:35 PM
NO RATINGS
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
User Rank
Blogger
Re: In pursuit of alternatives
naperlou   4/10/2012 2:54:02 PM
NO RATINGS
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?

Rob Spiegel
User Rank
Blogger
Re: In pursuit of alternatives
Rob Spiegel   4/10/2012 3:32:52 PM
NO RATINGS
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.

Jack Rupert, PE
User Rank
Platinum
Re: In pursuit of alternatives
Jack Rupert, PE   4/14/2012 5:13:15 PM
NO RATINGS
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.

windward
User Rank
Iron
Re: In pursuit of alternatives
windward   4/28/2012 9:47:57 PM
NO RATINGS
A good paper on rare earth supply by Cindy Hurst at

http://www.ensec.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=290:common-misconceptions-of-rare-earth-elements&catid=114:content0211&Itemid=374

lists several misconceptions about the situation:

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.

Kristin Lewotsky
User Rank
Blogger
Re: In pursuit of alternatives
Kristin Lewotsky   4/10/2012 7:31:18 PM
NO RATINGS
<<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.


Rob Spiegel
User Rank
Blogger
Re: In pursuit of alternatives
Rob Spiegel   4/11/2012 8:13:33 AM
NO RATINGS

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.

roddalitz
User Rank
Gold
Re: In pursuit of alternatives
roddalitz   4/11/2012 10:12:09 AM
NO RATINGS
Although REEs may become readily available again, the experience and knowledge gained by replacing them may help to create far better magnets using REEs.

Rob Spiegel
User Rank
Blogger
Re: In pursuit of alternatives
Rob Spiegel   4/11/2012 10:22:30 AM
NO RATINGS
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.

Charles Murray
User Rank
Blogger
Re: In pursuit of alternatives
Charles Murray   4/10/2012 3:24:49 PM
NO RATINGS
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.

Kristin Lewotsky
User Rank
Blogger
Re: In pursuit of alternatives
Kristin Lewotsky   4/10/2012 7:21:21 PM
NO RATINGS
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.

apresher
User Rank
Blogger
Impact on Motors
apresher   4/10/2012 8:03:19 AM
NO RATINGS
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
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Impact on Motors
naperlou   4/10/2012 9:44:45 AM
NO RATINGS
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?

Kristin Lewotsky
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Impact on Motors
Kristin Lewotsky   4/10/2012 7:18:19 PM
NO RATINGS
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.

apresher
User Rank
Blogger
Commodity Markets
apresher   4/11/2012 8:49:49 AM
NO RATINGS
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.

ChasChas
User Rank
Platinum
China needs us
ChasChas   4/11/2012 9:52:03 AM
NO RATINGS
 

China needs us way more than we need them. Somebody is playing games. If someone would "follow the money" ---? I think we could find out why US is so complacent about this.

 

davidogden
User Rank
Iron
"Rare Earths" are NOT Rare
davidogden   4/11/2012 11:57:17 AM
NO RATINGS

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.

Rob Spiegel
User Rank
Blogger
Re: "Rare Earths" are NOT Rare
Rob Spiegel   4/12/2012 12:26:20 PM
NO RATINGS

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.

motoragent
User Rank
Iron
Are we missing something?
motoragent   4/11/2012 5:10:43 PM
NO RATINGS
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!

Partner Zone
More Blogs
Advertised as the "Most Powerful Tablet Under $100," the Kindle Fire HD 6 was too tempting for the team at iFixit to pass up. Join us to find out if inexpensive means cheap, irreparable, or just down right economical. It's teardown time!
The increased adoption of wireless technology for mission-critical applications has revved up the global market for dynamic electronic general purpose (GP) test equipment. As the link between cloud networks and devices -- smartphones, tablets, and notebooks -- results in more complex devices under test, the demand for radio frequency test equipment is starting to intensify.
Much of the research on lithium-ion batteries is focused on how to make the batteries charge more quickly and last longer than they currently do, work that would significantly improve the experience of mobile device users, as well EV and hybrid car drivers. Researchers in Singapore have come up with what seems like the best solution so far -- a battery that can recharge itself in mere minutes and has a potential lifespan of 20 years.
Some humanoid walking robots are also good at running, balancing, and coordinated movements in group settings. Several of our sports robots have won regional or worldwide acclaim in the RoboCup soccer World Cup, or FIRST Robotics competitions. Others include the world's first hockey-playing robot and a trash-talking Scrabble player.
Automation technology advances matched with expanded fracking and the growing urbanization of Asia, South America, and the Middle East, are fueling a boom in the automation industry.
Design News Webinar Series
10/7/2014 8:00 a.m. California / 11:00 a.m. New York
9/25/2014 11:00 a.m. California / 2:00 p.m. New York
9/10/2014 11:00 a.m. California / 2:00 p.m. New York
7/23/2014 11:00 a.m. California / 2:00 p.m. New York
Quick Poll
The Continuing Education Center offers engineers an entirely new way to get the education they need to formulate next-generation solutions.
Oct 20 - 24, How to Design & Build an Embedded Web Server: An Embedded TCP/IP Tutorial
SEMESTERS: 1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6


Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.
Next Class: 10/28-10/30 11:00 AM
Sponsored by Stratasys
Next Class: 10/28-10/30 2:00 PM
Sponsored by Gates Corporation
Learn More   |   Login   |   Archived Classes
Twitter Feed
Design News Twitter Feed
Like Us on Facebook

Sponsored Content

Technology Marketplace

Copyright © 2014 UBM Canon, A UBM company, All rights reserved. Privacy Policy | Terms of Service