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William K.
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Platinum
China's rare earth export cutbacks
William K.   12/21/2011 3:19:48 PM
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One presently unexplored avenue for a new source of these rare elements would be recycling the devices that use them presently. How many discarded hard drives are there in landfills and other places? A huge advantage of recovering the elements from used product is the reduction in energy required, and the much lower level of pollution from pulling magnets out of hard drives. 

I am sure that there are other products that contain the various rare elements that could also be the target of a cecycling effort. OF course, this really should have been started twenty years ago, which probably would have made the impact of this export reduction much smaller. But nobody would listen to me then. Perhaps now somebody will listen.

Kevin
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Necessity is the motivator of innovation
Kevin   9/27/2011 1:38:14 PM
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Ms. Stackpole,

You hit the nail on the head!  While some things such as advanced batteries will probably always require some rare materials, other things such as electric motors can be easily made without.

The fact that most hybrid cars are using rare earth magnets in their electric motors makes the motors a bit smaller and easier to acheive good performance - but good 'ol silicon iron + copper windings can certainly make a good motor too (induction motors, wound-field DC motors, etc.).

Kevin
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Necessity is the motivator of innovation
Kevin   9/27/2011 1:38:12 PM
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Ms. Stackpole,

You hit the nail on the head!  While some things such as advanced batteries will probably always require some rare materials, other things such as electric motors can be easily made without.

The fact that most hybrid cars are using rare earth magnets in their electric motors makes the motors a bit smaller and easier to acheive good performance - but good 'ol silicon iron + copper windings can certainly make a good motor too (induction motors, wound-field DC motors, etc.).

jmiller
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Necessity is the motivator of innovation
jmiller   9/26/2011 9:48:59 PM
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I'm not suggesting that other materials will replace the current materials but rather that technology will allow designs to accomplish the same functions using different technologies and/or just do things in a different way.

Kristin Lewotsky
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Supply/Demand table
Kristin Lewotsky   9/25/2011 9:09:47 PM
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Hi dbues,

Short term, the backdrop is what we all know -- prices for REEs have shot sky, up more than an order of magnitude, in some cases.  The story I was trying to track here was how the supply chain for REEs is likely to adjust -- and when. Magnet manufacturers, and motor manufacturers and users need to know because they've got to make design decisions now. Long term, you read correctly, the supply chain for REEs required for high-density, high-stability magnets is going to broaden, but for a product going to market next year, that's not going to be a big help. Manufacturers with short time horizons are either going to have to suck it up, make other tradeoffs to compensate, or seek alternatives. Not pleasant, but at least if you know, you can plan.

K

dbues
User Rank
Gold
Supply/Demand table
dbues   9/24/2011 12:45:21 AM
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If I read it correctly, your table seems to indicate that Supply as a % of Demand is increasing.

I believe you intended it to be the other way, else there would be no news here.

Tim
User Rank
Platinum
Re: An opportunity
Tim   9/23/2011 8:14:56 PM
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Kristin,

I never thought of the domestic market in China as being viable end users of their own magnetic material.  I guess that does make sense.  On a grand scale, the Chinese government might just be trying to look out for its own citizens.

motoragent
User Rank
Silver
Who's laughing?
motoragent   9/23/2011 6:19:32 PM
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I am experienced enough to realize there have been some remarkably stupid marketing ploys done in the past. Look at the Department of Energy heavy investment into permanent magnet electric machines, only to have this technology completely leveraged by China! So it is completely possible that a marketing and manufacturing dynamo like China made the classic marketing mistake of restricting their supply of minable rare earth material to open global competition. Or is there something else, “Perhaps the total global supply of practical minable rare earth materials from all known reserves (even those reopened) is insufficient to meet the demand if electric vehicles and wind turbines come to anticipated fruition.

Kristin Lewotsky
User Rank
Blogger
Re: An opportunity
Kristin Lewotsky   9/23/2011 2:50:47 PM
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Hi Tim,

One of the most interesting pieces of information in Hatch's report was a table that showed how much of the REE production from China is outside of official channels. In 2009, for example, roughly 36% of the REE tonnage shipped from China was in addition to official quotas. Black-market/graymarket producers operate on an entirely different cost basis than their competition.

As far as the Chinese government's motivation here, they do seem to be in general paying more attention to environmental protection. It can also be an effort to push commerce up the value-added chain, as RadioGuy suggested. There's another element that I've heard from analysts which is that China doesn't seem particularly concerned about outside suppliers positioning to take market share. They have an ever larger domestic market. The real subtext here may not be, "We're going to raise prices on you because you want to get as much profit as possible from your business" so much as "We're going to raise prices on you because we don'tReally need your business but if you insist on buying, we might as well make as much as we can."

Kristin Lewotsky
User Rank
Blogger
Re: An opportunity
Kristin Lewotsky   9/23/2011 2:35:14 PM
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Hi Ivan,

As Jack mentioned, the issue is not one of labor but of environmental impact and the sheer difficulty of the processing. Extracting rare earth elements is not as easy as mining a vein or even extracting aluminum from bauxite, for example. Even within the same mine, REEs can be present in multiple different types of ores.  The refining process requires a large number of chemical processes. Because thorium is often present in the rock, byproducts can be radioactive wastewater.

 

At the Mountain Pass mine in California, which is currently in the process of being reopened by Molycorp, Radioactivewastewater leaks in the late 1990s/early 2000s Brought the facility under scrutiny from the US EPA. With China offering REEs at such low prices, it simply wasn't cost effective to go through the cleanup process. Now, it is, and Molycorp just closed on $781 million in funding to do the cleanup. No word, as yet, on when they expect to start refurbishing, let alone producing product, but the project is at least in process.

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