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Monthly Archives: November 2011

iPhone 5 to Possibly Have Sharp IGZO 4¨ Display

IGZO Graphic

Rumors are swirling around the net about what Apple is going to do about the new display for its iPhone 5. We know that it is going to be an IGZO (Indium, Gallium, Zinc , Oxygen) display. We also know that it will be 4 inches. What I do not know for sure is the manufacturer of the display. Some speculate Sony and Hitachi others say Sharp. From what I have been following it looks like it will be Sharp. Whoever makes the display the faithful are bound to be thrilled. These panels are also bound to be used in the next Apple iPad

According to Shuji Sako of Sharp, ¨The IGZO LCD panel´s performance outclasses anything attainable with conventional amorphous-silicon TFT panels.¨ IGZO transistors have mobility of its electrons up to 40 times higher than amorphous-silicon thin-film transistors. The IGZO transistors can also be made smaller and have the same performance. This helps the display save 30% in energy consumption and higher resolution over the traditional amorphous-silicon TFT panels. The display is said to perform at 330 dpi. The IGZO display would also enable the iPhone 5 to be thinner.

The demand for small and mid-size LCD panels is growing rapidly putting strains on the supply chain. What many tech blogs fail to say is that this amazing growth also puts strains on the natural resource supply chains. The technology needs Indium, Gallium and Zinc. Two of these metals have been deemed to be at Critical Levels according to the British Geological Survey and the US Geological Survey. Over 95% of these rare industrial or technical metals are supplied by China. Even if the prices of the metals go up 100% the end user will see a very small price increase because such a small amount of the metals are used in each device.

By: Randy Hilarski – The Rare Metals Guy

JUSUNG Engineering Releases MOCVD IGZO Technology for Flat Panel Displays

JUSUNG Engineering, a provider of solar cell, display and semiconductor manufacturing technologies, has released an innovative deposition technology that allows flat panel display manufacturers to improve high definition resolution in the future OLED displays.

A metal organic chemical vapor deposition (MOCVD) technology is used in the novel product to use the significant transparent semiconductor oxide material for utilization on flat panels. IGZO – Indium, Gallium, Zinc, Oxygen is the new material that substitutes the conventional amorphous silicon-based active layer. The electron mobility of IGZO is 40 times higher than that of conventional materials and the reaction speed of the display can be controlled quickly. This will help panel makers to provide screen resolutions more than the currently available Full High Definition.

JUSUNG Engineering claims to be the world’s first company to provide MOCVD IGZO efficiency for the panels of the 8th Generation. This new product is compatible with future OLED TVs, LCD TVs and mobile displays.

The MOCVD technology has advantages over traditional deposition methods. It enables panel makers to adjust the IGZO material composition to modify it for their application. Since the previous traditional deposition methods restrict the composition to fixed ratios, the process of fine tuning the composition is significant in the new material. The company hopes to get market acceptance for the new MOCVD technology.

A representative from JUSUNG clarified that the display companies around the world have started to shift to high-speed display technology through the use of IGZO materials. He also said that by being the first one to market this product, JUSUNG will use its growing market influence to come up as a leading capital equipment manufacturer in the world.

By: Cameron Chai

Cracking Down on Conflict Minerals

Photo: Matt Moyer/Getty Images DIRTY JOB: Men and children work at a gold mine in Mongbwalu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, in 2005. The mine is controlled by one of the many warring militias in the area. Electronics firms could face bad publicity for using gold from such mines.

In the jungles and mountains of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, battles are raging, part of a 13-year-long civil war. Most of the world has paid little attention to the murder and rape that still dominates life in the DRC’s eastern provinces. But U.S. electronics companies like HP, Intel, and Apple recently became deeply interested, thanks to a provision on “conflict minerals” that was slipped into a 2010 financial reform law, the Dodd-Frank Act.

The minerals provision is intended to deprive the Congo’s warlords of funds by cutting off sales from the mines they ­control. It focuses on the ores that ­produce the “three Ts”: tin, ­tantalum, and tungsten, as well as gold. Public companies that use these ­metals in their products will be required to investigate their supply chains, determine if they use metals that were mined in the DRC, and disclose their findings to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), in their annual reports, and on their websites. If its minerals did originate in the DRC, a company must submit a larger report on whether the purchase of these minerals financed or benefited armed groups in that part of Africa. The SEC is expected to issue final rules for implementing the law before the end of the year, and companies are scrambling to get ready.

While the conflict minerals law applies only to companies that are required to file annual reports in the United States, it’s expected to have an international impact. Since mineral suppliers sell to electronics companies around the world, any change in operations they make for the U.S. market will have ripple effects elsewhere.

The law doesn’t only affect the electronics industry. But the conflict mineral issue has been linked in the public mind to ­electronics because the three Ts play ­crucial roles in smartphones, TVs, and laptops. Tin is used in solder and thus found on every circuit board, tantalum is used in capacitors, and tungsten is used in the vibrating motors of many phones.

Electronics companies had been warned that they’d eventually have to account for their use of these minerals. So firms like HP and Intel asked the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative, two trade groups, to investigate the industry’s options.

The groups found that it’s extremely difficult to determine the origin of the tantalum used in a certain batch of smartphones. But they also realized that only about 45 smelters worldwide deal with the three Ts, buying the ores from suppliers and turning them into pure metals. After several years of research, the industry groups came up with the Conflict-Free Smelter Program, which is currently in the pilot phase for its first metal, tantalum.

The program asks each smelter to allow an annual independent audit of its mineral procurement process. If the auditors are convinced that no minerals are sourced from the Congo’s conflict mines, that smelter is certified as “conflict free,” allowing companies to buy its metals without worry. While the program is voluntary, EICC spokeswoman Wendy Dittmer says many smelting firms believe it’s in their interest to participate.

“Electronics companies are starting to ask questions all the way down their supply chains,” she says. “That certainly makes the buyers of the minerals very interested in being able to talk about their own due diligence.”

There are concerns that the law may backfire. By making the reporting requirements more onerous for companies that source minerals from the DRC, the law may reduce demand from all DRC mines, even those that aren’t in conflict regions and don’t finance armed groups.

These concerns about such a de facto ban led Motorola Solutions to initiate the Solutions for Hope Project, in which Motorola and several other companies formed a relationship with a conflict-free tantalum mine in the DRC’s Katanga province.

To establish the program, Michael Loch, Motorola’s director of supply-chain corporate responsibility, visited the mine and accompanied a shipment of ore along its export route. “This pilot allows our industry to stay engaged in the area,” says Loch. “We didn’t want to abandon the region.” But he acknowledges that it took a lot of effort to get the process in place for one mine and says it may be difficult to scale up the program.

The pilot programs should ­provide a framework to make ­compliance easier. Still, ­companies around the world are waiting for the SEC’s final rules with some anxiety. And there may be some efforts to block the rules’ enforcement through U.S. courts. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for one, has discussed the possibility of a lawsuit. The chamber disagrees with the SEC’s initial compliance cost estimate of US $71 million, saying that costs will instead be counted in the billions of dollars.

One thing is already certain about the SEC rules: There will be no fines for using conflict minerals. Even so, activists think it will have its intended effect, because companies will want to avoid bad publicity.

“For years we have been unknowing consumers of these minerals because companies have turned a blind eye,” says Sasha Lezhnev, a policy consultant on conflict minerals with the human rights group Enough. “This will enable consumers to make choices on whether or not to buy products from companies that are sourcing from these mines.”


Q-Cells reports record CIGS aperture area conversion efficiency of 17.4%

Verified by the Fraunhofer ISE Institute, CIGS (Copper Indium Gallium Selenid) thin-film manufacturer, Solibro a subsidiary of Q-Cells has reported a CIGS test module has achieved a new world record conversion efficiency of 17.4%.

Verified by the Fraunhofer ISE Institute, CIGS (Copper Indium Gallium Selenid) thin-film manufacturer, Solibro, a subsidiary of Q-Cells, reported a CIGS test module has achieved a new world record conversion efficiency of 17.4%. Earlier this year Solibro produced a record full module reading of 14.7% in series production.

“We are very proud of this result as it demonstrates the leadership of the CIGS technology produced by Q-Cells’ subsidiary Solibro,” remarked Lars Stolt, CTO of Solibro. “The current record verifies the feasibility of the efficiency roadmap of the Q.SMART module targeting an average aperture efficiency out of series production of up to 16.7 % in 2016.”

The record 16cm2 test module, was said to have been fabricated using processes that could be scaled to mass production. Q-Cells noted that the co-evaporation CIGS process uses metal flux profiles, temperature profiles as well as process time similar to Solibro’s current production.

The modules also employ a ‘light-soaking” effect, claimed to be unique in the thin-film sector to generate an average of 2.5% power boost above nominal power at standard test conditions.

By Mark Osborne

New JRC report highlights risk of rare earth metal shortages

Rare Earth Elements

A new JRC report revealed that five metals, essential for manufacturing low-carbon technologies, show a high risk of shortage. Reasons for this lie in Europe’s dependency on imports, increasing global demand, supply concentration and geopolitical issues.

Scientists at the JRC’s Institute for Energy and Transport (IET) examined the use of raw materials, especially metals, in the six priority low-carbon energy technologies of the Commission’s SET-Plan: nuclear, solar, wind, bio-energy, carbon capture and storage and electricity grids.

The findings were that a large-scale deployment of solar energy technologies, for example, will require half the current world supply of tellurium and 25% of the supply of indium. At the same time, the envisaged deployment of wind energy technology in Europe will require large amounts of neodymium and dysprosium for permanent magnet generators.

The report considers possible strategies to avoid or mitigate shortage of these metals, for instance through recycling, increasing Europe’s own production of such metals and by developing of alternative technologies that rely on more common materials.

In the near future the JRC will conduct similar studies on other energy technologies that also use critical metals, such as electric vehicles, electricity storage, lighting and fuel cells.

By: Peggy Greb

Rare-earth-activated glass-ceramic waveguides: ideal systems for photonics

Rare-earth-activated glass ceramics consisting of nanocrystals embedded in an amorphous matrix combine the advantages of optical glasses with crystal-like spectroscopic characteristics.

Amorphous waveguide structures activated with rare earth metal ions are becoming widely adopted in photonic applications such as integrated optical amplifiers, laser systems, and solar energy converters. These waveguides offer efficient luminescence quantum yield (i.e., the ratio of emitted to absorbed photons), effective broad bandwidth, and low attenuation coefficients. However, previous investigations on the enhancement of the luminescence quantum yield have identified phenomena detrimental to the efficiency of the active waveguide,1 such as ion-ion interactions and non-radiative relaxation processes. The search for more efficient glass compositions and guiding structures is thus ongoing.

Glass-ceramic waveguides overcome some of the efficiency problems experienced with conventional waveguides. These two-phase materials are composed of nanocrystals embedded in an amorphous matrix. The respective volume fractions of the crystalline and amorphous phases determine the properties of the glass ceramic. They also represent a valid alternative to widely used glass hosts such as silica as an effective optical medium for light propagation and luminescence enhancement.2 The crystalline environment of rare earth ions creates a waveguide with high absorbance and emission cross sections. It also reduces non-radiative relaxation by lowering the phonon cut-off energy of the waveguide2 and by increasing the spacing between particles, diminishing unfavorable ion-ion interactions. For photonic applications, transparency of the waveguide is of paramount importance. Fabrication protocols and materials must be tailored to optimize the spectroscopic features of active ions and to minimize attenuation coefficients.

Figure 1. High-resolution transmission electron micrographs of a 1mol% erbium ion (Er3+)-activated silica-hafnia (SiO2-HfO2) glass-ceramic waveguide, showing HfO2 single nanocrystals homogeneously dispersed in an amorphous matrix.
Figure 2. Room-temperature photoluminescence spectra of Er3+in zirconium erbium lanthanum aluminum [gallium] fluoride planar waveguide glass ceramics. WGF indicates fluoride waveguide. WGF6 is obtained after heat treatment and comprises lanthanum zirconium fluoride (LaZr3F15) crystals. WGF7 comprises LaF3 crystals grown during the deposition step with a substrate temperature higher than for WGF6. Luminescence decay curves from the 4I13/2 → 4I15/2 metastable state of Er3+ are reported in the inset. The increased bandwidth of WGF7 as the waveguide material is changed from glass to glass ceramic, caused by the presence of LaF3 nanocrystals, is clearly evident as a wider waveform. Er3+ in both amorphous glass and crystalline environments contributes to the spectrum.

We previously showed silica-hafnia (SiO2-HfO2) thin-film systems to be suitable for fabricating amorphous planar waveguides, glass-ceramic waveguides, spherical microresonators, and tapered rib waveguide lasers.1Using appropriate top-down and bottom-up techniques, we can make erbium (Er3+)-activated glass-ceramic planar waveguides. Top-down approaches seek to create nanocomposite devices by using larger externally controlled zones to construct a new system, while bottom-up methods focus on smaller components and arrange them into a more complex system. These materials exhibit attenuation coefficients as low as 0.3dB/cm at 1542nm, and the HfO2crystalline phase greatly enhances the spectroscopic properties of embedded erbium ions. X-ray diffraction and high-resolution transmission electron microscopy analyses have shown the formation of tetragonal HfO2nanocrystals with dimensions of about 3–5nm (see Figure 1), depending on the HfO2 content.1

While silica remains one of the best low-cost materials, fluoride glasses are attractive because of their ability to solubilize rare earth ions (> 5×1021 ions cm−3) and their inherently low phonon cut-off energy. Mortier et al. showed that transparent glass ceramics can be obtained by heating zirconium fluoride-based glass with high erbium content (8mol%) at 70°C above the glass-transition temperature (390°C) for 40min.3 This causes a so-called spinodal decomposition, whereby the chemical composition of the glass fluctuates continuously until it decomposes into two separate and distinguishable phases, producing a glass ceramic with absorbance cross section increased by 20%. The morphology of the crystallites is dendritic with high connectivity. We have obtained fluoride glass waveguides with composition close to bulk glass by physical vapor deposition,2 which opens up the possibility of using fluoride glass-ceramic materials for photonic applications.

Fluoride glasses provide an interesting system for fabricating both amorphous and glass-ceramic waveguides activated by rare earth ions. They take advantage of high Er3+ solubility and low phonon energy compared with oxide glasses. Moreover, they enable incorporation of rare earth ions into the crystal phase after thermal annealing (see Figure 2). Bulk fluoride glasses and glass ceramics activated by Er3+ and ytterbium ions (Yb3+) were investigated with the aim of quantifying the influence of Yb3+ on the spectral characteristics of Er3+ in these systems. Glassy samples co-doped with Yb3+with a ratio Yb:Er of 5:1 present an absorption coefficient and emission intensity four times higher at 1532nm than samples activated only with Er3+.2

In summary, glass-ceramic waveguides activated by rare earth ions are nanocomposite systems that exhibit specific morphological and spectroscopic properties. They allow exploration of interesting new physical concepts and enable us to construct novel photonic devices based on luminescence enhancement. Fabrication techniques based on both bottom-up and top-down approaches have been shown to be viable, though it remains true that precise adherence to protocol is required to achieve the reliability and reproducibility necessary for such devices. Our work now focuses on fabrication protocols that preferentially embed rare earth ions inside the crystal phase, and on patterning techniques that minimize degradation of optical properties.

By: Alessandro Chiasera, Maurizio Ferrari, Guillaume Alombert-Goget, Simone Berneschi, Stefano Pelli, Claire Duverger Arfuso and Brigitte Boulard

Proposed German industrial alliance aims to secure critical metals supply

German Flag

With the German federal government’s blessing, conglomerates are forming the Alliance for Commodity Hedging to secure supplies of critical raw materials.


Germany’s BDI Federation of German Industries is helping at least 12 major German conglomerates form an alliance to secure raw materials, such as base and rare earth metals, to overcome fears of supply shortages.

In an interview with Bloomberg, BDI spokesman Alexander Mihm said the Allianz zur Rohstoffsicherung (Alliance for Commodity Hedging) will be founded at the beginning of the new year. Among the companies who will join the alliance are BASF SE, the world’s largest chemical maker, steel company Thyssen Krupp AG, and specialty chemical company Evonik.

Trade restrictions by major commodity exporters such as China and rapidly rising commodity prices apparently prompted these companies to form the alliance, based on a concept created by the Boston Consulting Group. The goal is to establish a global, for-profit resource company that allows the German industry to have independent access to critical materials, such as copper and rare earths.

Access to REE deposits is crucial to the development of high technology industries in Germany, including the renewable energy sector, which is viewed as a driving force of the German economy.

The Dusseldorf-based business newspaper Handelsblatt reported that the alliance has the support of Germany’s federal government including the Chancellor’s Office, Ministry of Economy, Foreign Office, and Department of International Development.

In October, German Chancellor Angela Merkel signed an intergovernmental agreement on resources, industry and technology partnership with Mongolian Prime Minister Sukhbaataryn Batbold. The signing of the resource partnership was a consequence of the German government’s strategy to support German companies in getting access to iron, silicon and rare earth metals.

German companies want access to Mongolia’s deposits of coal and rare earths in exchange for providing the machines to extract resources. However, the German government has not yet succeeded in concluding a contract for the mining of rare earths in Mongolia, due to intense competition for REEs from Chinese and Russian companies.

A similar alliance with the government of Kazakhstan is also being sought by the German federal government.

However, the member companies of Alliance for Commodity Hedging have made it clear to the German government that they want political, not financial support, Handelsblatt said.

Mihm told Bloomberg that the alliance will cost participants several hundred thousand Euros, and once project begin, other contributions will be required.

By: Dorothy Kosich

Research Report Analyzes Molybdenum Use in Energy and Electronics Markets

Molybdenum is a Group 6 chemical element with the symbol Mo and atomic number 42.

Rare Industrial Metal - Molybdenum

Research and Markets now offers a comprehensive research report titled ‘Molybdenum Markets in the Electronics and Solar Industries – 2011’ from NanoMarkets.

NanoMarkets has been offering research reports on various markets such as lighting, display and photovolatics materials for the past several years. In the new report, NanoMarkets discusses the way of operations of these markets and their major players. The report provides an in-depth analysis of the electronics and energy related markets wherein molybdenum is used. It also includes revenue forecast for eight years.

In recent years, molybdenum has found new opportunities in the growth-oriented electronics and energy markets. Especially, the material has a significant share as an electrode material in the market for CIGS solar panels. This is one-of-its-kind report that discusses the market for molybdenum exclusively in the growth-oriented energy and electronics markets.

According to NanoMarkets, since molybdenum demonstrates strong adhesion to active layers and substrates, its usage in the solar panel market will increase continuously. The report predicts that molybdenum finds a huge prospect in the fast growing CdTe segment. Besides being used in the solar market, molybdenum finds interesting applications in OLED electrodes. The material has a bright future in other sectors such as related to display and lighting.

In the electronics industry, molybdenum has been used in conventional applications such as in magnetrons and in x-ray system components. Due to its high price, the material is used in combination with low cost materials such as aluminum in most of its applications.

By: Cameron Chai

China’s environmental watchdog tightens control over rare earth projects

Republic of China

BEIJING, Nov. 24 (Xinhua) — The Ministry of Environmental Protection on Thursday announced a list of the first 15 rare earth metal enterprises that have passed the ministry’s environmental protection check.

The enterprises were selected from 84 companies that passed inspections by environmental watchdogs in 14 provincial divisions, said Tao Detian, the ministry’s spokesman.

China currently has more than 300 enterprises working in the rare earth metal industry.

Environmental protection departments across China will not accept environmental impact assessment reports on any new rare earth projects unless they are submitted by enterprises that are on the list, Tao said.

Without an environmental impact assessment report, no industrial projects can be legally approved in China.

In April, the ministry started a nationwide inspection of rare earth enterprises, evaluating their environmental impact, pollution control measures and efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

According to the inspection, rare earth enterprises have typically not performed well in controlling pollution and protecting local environments, Tao said.

The ministry found that several enterprises did not submit environmental impact assessment reports, while others did not properly dispose of dangerous industrial waste, he said. Mining enterprises, in particular, have caused serious damage to local ecology, Tao said.

Enterprises that have failed the inspection have been urged to change their practices, while those that have seriously violated environmental laws will have their operations suspended and be forced to pay fines, Tao said.

The inspection will be expanded to highly-polluting industries such as steel production, leathermaking, lead-acid battery manufacturing, citric acid production and ethyl alcohol production, he said.

By: Xiong Tong

Rare Earth Elements are not the same as Rare Industrial Metals

Rare Earth Elements

Randy Hilarski has also released a video on this article that can be watched by clicking here.

I read articles from other writers who often refer to Rare Industrial or Technical Metals as Rare Earth elements. I would like to take some time and clear up the issue. I deal with RIM’s and REE´s on a daily basis. The two might both be considered metals but that is where the similarities end.

First we have REE´s or Rare Earth Elements. These metals consist of 17 metals, the Lanthanides plus Scandium and Yttrium on the periodic table of the elements. These metals are in a powder form, making them difficult to assay and store. One important factor that is often mentioned is that they are not rare. This is very true, but finding REE´s in large deposits is difficult.

In the mining sector REE mines are standalone mines, that focus on the mining and refining of REE´s exclusively. Currently around 97% of all REE´s are mined and refined in China. Historically REE mining and refining has been a dirty business, which has affected the environment around the mines. The elements Thorium and Uranium are often found along with the REE´s in the deposits causing the slurry to be slightly radioactive when processed. The use of highly toxic acids during the processing can also have serious environmental impact. Many companies are trying to open REE mines but they are meeting headwinds, as nations and people do not want these mines in their backyard.

Over the last few years China has dramatically cut its export of REE´s. This and the increased need for REE´s have caused a meteoric rise in the value of these metals. The one area that very few people talk about is the role of the media combined with speculators in raising the value of REE ETF´s in particular. For the last couple years REE´s were the rock stars of the metals. The news has calmed as of late, but the supply and demand factors that caused the metals to soar are still in place. Recently China closed it BaoTao mine until REE prices stabilize.

Rare Earth Metal - Indium

Rare Industrial Metals, RIM´s or Technical metals are another group entirely. The RIM´s are made up of metals used in over 80% of all products we use on a daily basis. Without these metals you would not have the world of the 21st century with our mobile phones, hybrid cars, flat screen TV´s, highly efficient solar energy and computers. Some of these metals include Indium, Tellurium, Gallium, Tantalum and Hafnium. These metals really are rare compared to the Rare Earth Metals which causes a great deal of confusion. These metals are in a metallic form, stable and easy to store and ship.

RIM´s are mined as a by-product of base or common metal mining. For example Tellurium is a by-product of Copper mining and Gallium is a by-product of Aluminum and Zinc mining. The mining of the RIM´s currently are for the most part at the mercy of the markets for the base or common metal mining. If the Copper mines of the world decide to cut production due to Copper losing value, this will have a huge impact on the amount of Tellurium that can be refined. Up until now, because of the previous small size of the RIM market, many companies do not feel the need to invest money into better technology to mine and refine these metals. The RIM´s would have to be valued much higher to gain the attention of the mining industry.

When China cut exports of REE´s they also cut exports of RIM´s. This put pressure on the value of these metals. RIM´s have increased in value, but nowhere near the meteoric rise of the REE´s. Most of the metals increased in value around 47% in 2010 and 25% so far in 2011. There is still a lot of room for growth in the value of these metals (not based on speculation like REE´s) as demand is exceeding supply now and in the future.

For Example, when REE´s and the stock market recently fell sharply the RIM´s came down slightly in value but have held their own extremely well. On a further note, according to Knut Andersen of Swiss Metal Assets, ¨Even though prices of the Rare Industrial Metals continue to go up in value, consumers will eventually only see a very small increase in the price of the end products, because there is so little of each metal used to produce these products. Also if the people can´t afford a smartphone they will still buy less expensive phones that still use the same Rare Industrial Metals¨.

The need for RIM´s has risen sharply over the years and will continue to grow at astronomical rates. China, India, South America and the whole of Africa with hundreds of millions of new consumers are now buying and using computers and mobile phones to name just a few products.

The future is bright for the technologies and the Rare Industrial Metals that make them work and for anyone who participates in stockpiling these metals now to meet future increased demand.

By: Randy Hilarski – The Rare Metals Guy

Prices of Rare Earth Metals Declining Sharply

Neodymium Price Graph

HONG KONG — After nearly three years of soaring prices for rare earth metals, with the cost of some rising nearly thirtyfold, the market is rapidly coming back down.

International prices for some light rare earths, like cerium and lanthanum, used in the polishing of flat-screen televisions and the refining of oil, respectively, have fallen as much as two-thirds since August and are still dropping. Prices have declined by roughly one-third since then for highly magnetic rare earths, like neodymium, needed for products like smartphones, computers and large wind turbines.

Big companies in the United States, Europe and Japan that use rare earths in their manufacturing have been moving operations to China, drawing down inventories, switching to alternative materials or even curtailing production to avoid paying the extremely high prices that prevailed outside China over the summer, executives said at an annual conference in Hong Kong on Wednesday.

As demand for rare earths wilted outside China, speculators dumped inventories, feeding the downward plunge. Cerium peaked at $170 a kilogram, or $77 a pound, in August but now sells for $45 to $60 a kilogram. Prices are negotiated by buyers and sellers directly with one another and reported by market information companies like Asian Metal, based in Pittsburgh.

That is still far above cerium’s price of $6 a pound three years ago, before China, the world’s dominant producer, sharply cut its export quotas.

“We all learned a hard lesson in July and August, how high these prices can go before customers begin yelling,” said Mark Smith, the chief executive and president of Molycorp, the only American producer of rare earths.

He added that rare earth mining outside China remained very profitable even with the price decline, which has brought the market back to the level of last spring.

The sharp decline in demand and prices outside China could create yet another shortage next year, said Constantine Karayannopoulos, the chief executive of Neo Material Technologies, a Canadian company that has its factories in China.

That is because Chinese exporters are unlikely to use all of their export quotas this year — since demand is down — and the Chinese Commerce Ministry has historically penalized exporters that do not use all of their quotas by giving them smaller quotas the next year.

China mines 94 percent of the rare earth metals in the world. Through 2008, it supplied almost all of the global annual demand outside of China of 50,000 to 55,000 tons. But it cut export quotas to a little more than 30,000 tons last year and again this year and imposed steep export taxes, producing a shortage in the rest of the world.

Together with a two-month Chinese embargo on shipments to Japan during a territorial dispute a year ago, the trade restrictions and shortage resulted in prices outside China reaching as much as 15 times the level within China last winter. That created a big incentive for companies that use rare earths in their products to move factories to China or find alternatives.

Executives spoke at a conference in Hong Kong sponsored by two London companies, Roskill Information Services and Metal Events, that have aimed to stay neutral on the trade and geopolitical issues roiling the industry.

Many Chinese companies have halted production this autumn in a bid to stem the decline in prices, several executives said. The Chinese Commerce Ministry has also blocked companies from exporting at prices that it deems too low, setting a minimum price for cerium exports, for example, of $70 a kilogram.

Chinese exporters are on track to use only 20,000 to 25,000 tons of their quotas this year, setting the stage for lower quotas next year, Mr. Karayannopoulos said.

By comparison, industry estimates now put annual demand outside China at a little under 40,000 tons, in part because of conservation efforts regarding rare earths.

Automakers are finding ways to use less neodymium in the magnets of many cars’ small electric motors. Oil companies are finding ways to use less lanthanum in refining, and industries like electronics and wind turbine manufacturing are finding ways to use less dysprosium.


China’s Rare-Earth Domination Keeps Wind Industry On Its Toes

Wind Turbine

Wind Generator

Wind turbine manufacturers are scrambling to find alternatives to a key element used in direct-drive permanent magnet generators (PMGs), thanks to skyrocketing prices and diminishing supplies of crucial rare earths.

China currently provides 94% of the world’s rare earths, including neodymium and dysprosium, which are used in the magnets for direct-drive wind turbine motors. However, the Chinese government has put new restrictions on rare-earth mining that have resulted in lower supply levels, according to a report from research firm Roskill Information Services (RIS).

For instance, this year, the Chinese government issued new regulations requiring all companies that mine rare earths to show they have mandatory production plans, appropriate planning permission, environmental certification and safety licenses.

But it was last year’s tightening of China’s export quota that really impacted the rare-earth market. Between May 2010 and August 2011, Chinese internal prices for neodymium increased eightfold – a reflection of the shortage of rare earths for magnets within China, RIS notes.

China has also ramped up its export taxes on rare earths, causing a shortage in the rest of the world.

As a result, only 25% of the world’s rare-earth supply will come from China by 2015, as demand for the neodymium and dysprosium necessary for the manufacture of magnets for wind turbines will climb at a pace of 7% to 9% per year through 2015, according to RIS’ research.

This growth in demand could result in a supply deficit within that time frame, causing wind turbine manufacturers to rush to find alternatives to PMGs.

Searching for other options

Some companies that rely on PMGs for their wind turbines have already taken steps to avoid the problem.

In September, PMG manufacturer Boulder Wind Power engaged Molycorp – which claims to be the only U.S. supplier of rare earths, and the largest provider outside of China – to be its preferred supplier of rare earths and/or alloys for wind turbine generators.

In addition to avoiding the trade conflicts and price volatility associated with China by using a U.S.-based supplier, the company also uses permanent magnets that do not require dysprosium, a very scarce rare earth.

“By effectively solving the dysprosium supply problem for the wind turbine industry, this technology removes a major hurdle to the expansion of permanent magnet generator wind turbines across global markets,” says Mark A. Smith, Molycorp’s president and CEO.

Direct-drive wind turbine manufacturer Goldwind has taken a similar approach.

“As a result of early price increases, Goldwind began developing efficiencies and alternatives that reduce the amount of rare-earth materials required to manufacture our magnets, which, in turn, mitigates our exposure to future price fluctuations,” Colin Mahoney, spokesperson for Goldwind USA, tells NAW. “This is a scenario that we have long considered.”

Despite RIS’ somewhat negative forecast, some say the worst is over. Because companies are looking to U.S. rare-earth suppliers, such as Molycorp, instead of to China – as well as coming up with alternatives that do not involve rare earths – there is some indication that prices may come down.

In fact, a recent New York Times article claims prices have dropped significantly since August.

Goldwind’s Mahoney agrees with that assessment.

“While the price of rare-earth materials have fluctuated over the past several years, more recent trends have included a dramatic drop in the neodymium market,” he says.

Still, it is uncertain how long these prices can be maintained, as demand for rare earths is expected to soar by 2015, the RIS report notes.

By: Laura DiMugno

Chasing Rare Earths, Foreign Companies Expand in China

Rare Earth Elements

CHANGSHU, China — China has long used access to its giant customer base and cheap labor as bargaining chips to persuade foreign companies to open factories within the nation’s borders.

Now, corporate executives say, it is using its near monopoly on certain raw materials — in particular, scarce metals vital to products like hybrid cars, cellphones and energy-efficient light bulbs — to make it difficult for foreign high-tech manufacturers to relocate or expand factories in China. Companies that continue making their products outside the country must contend with tighter supplies and much higher prices for the materials because of steep taxes and other export controls imposed by China over the last two years.

Companies like Showa Denko and Santoku of Japan and Intematix of the United States are adding new factory capacity in China this year instead of elsewhere because they need access to the raw materials, known as rare earth metals.

“We saw the writing on the wall — we simply bought the equipment and ramped up in China to begin with,” said Mike Pugh, director of worldwide operations for Intematix, who noted that the company would have preferred to build its new factory near its Fremont, Calif., headquarters.

While seemingly obscure, China’s policy on rare earths appears to be directed by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao himself, according to Chinese officials and documents. Mr. Wen, a geologist who studied rare earths at graduate school in Beijing in the 1960s, has led at least two in-depth reviews of rare earths this year at the State Council, China’s cabinet. And during a visit to Europe last autumn, he said that little happened on rare earth policy without him.

China’s tactics on rare earths probably violate global trade rules, according to governments and business groups around the world.

A panel of the World Trade Organization, the main arbiter of international trade disputes, found last month that China broke the rules when it used virtually identical tactics to restrict access to other important industrial minerals. China’s commerce ministry announced on Wednesday that it would appeal the ruling.

No formal case has yet been brought concerning rare earths because officials from affected countries are waiting to see the final resolution of the other case, which has already lasted more than two years.

Karel De Gucht, the European Union’s trade commissioner, cited the industrial minerals decision in declaring last month that, “in the light of this result, China should ensure free and fair access to rare earth supplies.”

Shen Danyang, a spokesman for the commerce ministry, reiterated at a news conference on Wednesday in Beijing that China believed its mineral export policies complied with W.T.O. rules. China’s legal position, outlined in recent W.T.O. filings, is that its policies qualify for an exception to international trade rules that allows countries to limit exports for environmental protection and to conserve scarce supplies.

But the W.T.O. panel has already rejected this argument for the other industrial minerals, on the grounds that China was only curbing exports and not limiting supplies available for use inside the country.

China mines more than 90 percent of the world’s rare earths, and accounted for 60 percent of the world’s consumption by tonnage early this year.

But if factories continue to move to China at their current rate, China will represent 70 percent of global consumption by early next year, said Constantine Karayannopoulos, the chief executive of Neo Material Technologies, a Canadian company that is one of the largest processors in China of raw rare earths.

For the last two years, China has imposed quotas to limit exports of rare earths to about 30,000 tons a year. Before then, factories outside the country had been consuming nearly 60,000 tons a year.

China has also raised export taxes on rare earths to as much as 25 percent, on top of value-added taxes of 17 percent.

Rare earth prices have soared outside China as users have bid frantically for limited supplies. Cerium oxide, a rare earth compound used in catalysts and glass manufacturing, now costs $110,000 per metric ton outside China. That is more than four times the price inside China, and up from $3,100 two years ago, according to Asian Metal, an industry data company based in Pittsburgh.

For most industrial products that are manufactured in China using rare earths and then exported, China imposes no quotas or export taxes, and frequently no value-added taxes either.

Companies do that math, and many decide it is more cost-effective to move to China to get cheaper access to the crucial metals.

“When we export materials such as neodymium from China, we have to pay high tariffs,” said Junichi Tagaki, a spokesman for Showa Denko, which announced last month that it would sharply expand its production of neodymium-based magnetic alloys, used in everything from hybrid cars to computers, in southern China.

The company saves money by manufacturing in China instead of Japan because the alloys are not subject to any Chinese export taxes or value-added taxes, he said.

Big chemical companies are also shifting to China the first stage in their production of rare earth catalysts used by the oil industry to refine oil into gasoline, diesel and other products. They are moving after Chinese state-controlled companies grabbed one-sixth of the global market by offering sharply lower prices, mainly because of cheaper access to rare earths. Chemical companies are also working on ways to reduce the percentage of rare earths in catalysts while preserving the catalysts’ effectiveness.

Production of top-quality glass for touch-screen computers and professional-quality camera lenses, currently done mostly in Japan, is also shifting to China.

Factories are moving despite worries about the theft of trade secrets. Intematix takes elaborate precautions at a factory completed last month here in Changshu, 60 miles northwest of Shanghai, where the company manufactures the rare earth-based phosphors that make liquid-crystal displays and light-emitting diodes work. While Intematix hired Chinese scientists to perfect the industrial processes here, only three know the complete chemical formulas.

China’s timing is excellent, said Dudley Kingsnorth, a longtime rare earth industry executive and consultant in Australia. Mines being developed in the United States, Australia and elsewhere will start producing sizable quantities of rare earths in the next several years, so China seems to be using its leverage now to force companies to relocate.

“They’re making the most of it, and they’re obviously having some success,” he said.

Until Western governments and business groups and media began pointing out the W.T.O. issues, Chinese ministries and officials had repeatedly stated that the purpose of the rules was to encourage companies to move production to China. They switched to emphasizing environmental protection as the trade issues became salient.

China has stepped up enforcement this summer of mining limits and pollution standards for the rare earth industry, which has reduced supplies and pushed up prices within China, although not as much as for overseas buyers. The crackdown might help the country argue to the W.T.O. that it is limiting output for its own industries.

But other countries are likely to argue that the crackdown is temporary, and that previous crackdowns have been short-lived.

Charlene Barshefsky, the former United States trade representative who set many of the terms of China’s entry to the W.T.O. in 2001, wrote in an e-mail that one problem with the W.T.O. was that its panels did not have the power to issue injunctions,. So countries can maintain policies that may violate trade rules until a panel rules against them and any appeal has failed.

Even then, the W.T.O. can order a halt to the offending practice, but it usually cannot require restitution for past practices except in cases involving subsidies, which are not directly involved in the rare earth dispute.

To be sure, China is offering some carrots as well as sticks to persuade foreign companies to move factories to China.

Under China’s green industry policies, the municipal government of Changshu let Intematix move into a newly built, 124,000-square-foot industrial complex near a highway and pay no rent for the first three years.

Intematix pays $400 to $500 a month (2,500 to 3,000 renminbi) for skilled factory workers like Wang Yiping, the 33-year-old foreman on duty on a recent morning here. It pays $500 to $600 a month (3,000 to 3,500 renminbi) for young, college-educated chemical engineers like Yang Lidan, a 26-year-old woman who examined rare earth powders under an electron scanning microscope in a nearby lab.

It was also relatively cheap to buy the factory’s 52-foot-long blue furnaces, through which rare earth powders move on extremely slow conveyor belts while superheated to 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit. With many Chinese suppliers competing, Intematix paid one-tenth to one-fifth of American equipment prices, said Han Jiaping, the factory’s vice president of engineering.

Still, Mr. Pugh said that the company’s decision to build the factory in China was based not on costs but on reliable access to rare earths, without having to worry about quotas or export taxes.

“I think this is what the Chinese government wanted to happen,” he said.


Lowman: Reliant on rare earth

Rare Earth Elements critical to 80% of Modern Industry.

Rare Earth Elements critical to 80% of Modern Industry

Science … tells us that nothing in nature, not even the tiniest particle, can disappear without a trace. Nature does not know extinction. All it knows is transformation … and everything science has taught me … strengthens my belief in the continuity of our spiritual existence after death. Nothing disappears without a trace.

— Werner von Braun

What do Yttrium, Promethium, Europium and Luterium have in common? Although they may sound like a foreign language, these rare earth elements comprise the backbone of new technologies for the 21st century. Seventeen chemical elements, also called rare earths, are appended to the existing periodic table of elements, and their relatively new discoveries have advanced the electronics industry. Yttrium, when alloyed with other elements, forms part of aircraft engines; Promethium is an essential component of long-lived nuclear batteries; Europium powers images in flat-screen televisions; and Luterium detects radiation in PET scanners (positron emission tomography) used for medical research. Many new technologies — hybrid cars, televisions, cellphones, computer hard drives, camera lenses, and self-cleaning ovens — owe their success to rare earth elements.

The Prius alone contains rare earth elements for its LCD screens, electric motor and generator, headlight glass, catalytic converter, UV windows and mirrors; other cars require similar components to provide competitive features for buyers. The magnets under the hood of a Prius are some of the most powerful on the planet. Different from older technologies, they use rare earth elements to charge the battery and turn the wheels.

Without rare earth elements, your iPod earbuds would still be large, old-fashioned and unwieldy headphones.

As the world’s technologies become increasingly dependent on rare earth metals, their reserves become more valuable. Half the world’s rare earth deposits are in China, which mines almost 100 percent of global supply. Because China recognizes its own increasing needs for new technologies, the country recently reduced rare earth element export quotas by almost 40 percent in 2010.

So what will other countries do to remain competitive in the high-technology market? The answer: Train the emerging generation in STEM education — science, technology, engineering and math — to develop new technologies.

In North Carolina, hubs like Research Triangle Park and Raleigh’s new Nature Research Center are ideal incubators for the next generation of scientists and engineers. Researchers are working around the clock to design products that do not require rare earth elements. At Ames Laboratory in Iowa, scientists are trying to create magnets devoid of any rare earth metals. General Electric is applying nanotechnology to wind turbines as part of its clean-energy portfolio. Nanocomposite magnets will reduce the need for two rare earth metals: neodymium and dysprosium, which function to line up the magnetic field in wind turbines or hybrid cars.

Another strategy for minimizing the reliance on China’s rare earth deposits is to locate reserves closer to home. On California’s Mojave Desert, several rare earth mining operations are reopening. Another option involves improved recycling of cellphones and other products that contain rare earth elements.

The most economical solution is to reduce our reliance on rare earth elements altogether. Toyota is scrambling to develop technologies that do not require magnets utilizing rare earth elements in hybrid cars, and the television industry hopes to someday eliminate the need for Europium and Terbium in its screen imagery.

Training the next generation of scientists and engineers to inspire creative solutions is critical; otherwise, iPods, PET scans and plasma televisions may become increasingly limited in their production. After all, where will America be without scandium, a rare earth element alloyed with aluminum in baseball bats?

By: Meg Lowman

EU Feels Pressure of China’s Rare Earths Supply Pinch

Rare Earth Elements critical to 80% of Modern Industry.

Rare Earth Elements critical to 80% of Modern Industry

The pressure to use low-carbon technologies less damaging to the environment is hitting hard on industries using rare earths in the European Union.

European Commission’s Vice President Antonio Tajani raised the concern regarding the steady supply of rare earths, which are primary components to solar panels and energy-efficient light bulbs.

Rare earth metals are also used in common electronic gadgets like iPhones and iPads.

The site cited a report by Tajani’s early this week that a separate plan must be conceived to secure the supply of rare earths and allow the smooth execution of the EC’s Strategic Energy Technology Plan.

“European companies need to have a secure, affordable and undistorted access to raw materials. This is essential for industrial competitiveness, innovation and jobs in Europe,” Tajani’s report said.

The EC has been conducting a study of the rare earths metals in pursuing the low-carbon technology indicated in the plan, which includes nuclear, solar, wind, bio-energy, carbon capture and storage and updating electricity grids.

The study, “Critical Metals in Strategic Energy Technologies,” reveals that five metals commonly used in these technologies (neodymium, dysprosium, indium, tellurium and gallium) show a high risk of shortage, according to

China’s clamping down on rare earth production has led other nations to consider their options in securing their steady supply of the metals.

The United States has been considering building its own stockpile, which some industry specialists said could also distort world prices and the supplies.

China currently holds close to 95 percent of current supply and commanded a premium price raging from 100,000 to 300,000 renminbi early this month.

To be less reliant on China for rare earths, companies like Molycorp, Lynas Corp., Alkane Resources, Globe Metals Mining, among other mining firms have embarked on mineral exploration projects to uncover more of the coveted rare earths.

Recently, the U.S. Congress considered a strategic stock pile of rare earths as they are used in a variety of applications including global positioning and guidance and control systems, according to a Congressional Research Service report.

By Christine Gaylican