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Monthly Archives: December 2011

2012 Outlook: Uncertainty Continues For Rare Earths Prices, China Still Major Player

Rare Earth Elements

(Kitco News) – After exploding onto the metals scene in 2010 and garnering widespread media and investor attention, rare earths element prices have dropped and have been unstable mainly due to demand tapering off in 2011, leading to uncertainty in 2012.

Low demand during 2011 was caused by high rare earths prices from both heavy and light rare earths metals, which despite their fluttering prices, remain historically high.

Despite unstable prices throughout 2011, there is some expectation that rare earths prices might become more stable in 2012.

“I think that rare earth metals, they tend to be more strategic in nature and supply versus demand remains quite balanced in favor of prices being stronger in 2012,” said Mike Frawley, global head of metals at Newedge Group. “The pace of consumption in mainland China is a critical component of demand, prices.”

The Chinese continue to control most of the rare earths supply but reports show that Chinese exports are extremely low. Information provided by Metal Pages, a news site that focuses on non-ferrous metals, ferro alloys and rare earths, indicated that rare earth elements exports have dropped 65% in 2011 and that China has only exported 11,000 metric tons of rare earths through the first three quarters of the year.

Reports suggested that the Chinese government may change regulations that would get around Chinese producers who have cut their supply while keeping prices high.

Rare earths prices alone are also an issue not only with volatility, but with their general cost.

According to a report focused on rare earth elements performance for the upcoming year from A.L. Waters Capital, the firm highlighted some specific rare earths and their current prices compared to their peak prices.

A heavy rare earth such as dysprosium, which is commonly used in televisions and lasers, reached a market high of $2,800 per kilogram while its current price is $2,000.

Another heavy rare earths type, europrium, which is used in television screens, peaked at $5,900/kg while its current price is $3,900.

Some light rare earths come at a substantially cheaper price, such as neodymium, which is used in magnets, peaked at $410/kg on the market and currently sits at $270. (A complete list of all 17 rare earth metals and their uses can be found at the end of the article.)

While rare earths are expensive to use in producing several products used daily, the drop in demand does not come from an alternate substance that can be as effective for a fraction of the cost.

“Demand has gone down (in 2011) but I also think that they haven’t really been able to replace rare earth metals,” said Arnett Waters, chairman of A.L. Waters Capital. “I think that part of what’s going on is that businesses are spending less money on more expensive stuff. If I have a use for europrium and I can use a quarter of a pound of it and it does ok in the product that I’m making, I’m not going to adopt a new product in this economy. It would cost too much money.”

Also, with current economic crises around the globe, it is expected that demand will not be strong in 2012 given the historical high prices of rare earths.

Waters used strategic military defense equipment as an example.

“In the case of strategic military equipment, defense budgets are declining,” Waters said. “I realize the U.S. may not be cutting stealth bomber production, but I am saying that in many countries that would like to use these rare earth metals for strategic purposes are cutting their defense budgets and they cannot afford it.”

Rare earths metals play a large role in current modern technology, cruise missiles and other weapons systems.


China holds most of the processing capacity for rare earths metals.

“A lot of the processing capacity is in China and you can’t use Chinese capacity unless you’re actually getting your rare earths from them,” said Waters. “That’s why Lynas Corporation Ltd. (ASX: LYC) and others have been building their plants in Malaysia.”

Lynas currently has a concentration plant under construction at Mount Weld in Western Australia as well as an advanced materials plant in Kuantan, Malaysia. Neither plant has begun production yet.

Molycorp Inc. (NYSE:MCP) has three facilities, two located in the U.S., California and Arizona respectively, as well as one located in Estonia. The company stated earlier in 2011 that production from the three facilities would produce between 4,941 and 5,881 metric tons by the end of 2011. The company expects to raise production to 19,050 metric tons by the end of 2012.

The sentiment to mine and produce rare earths outside of China does not fall squarely on the shoulders of these two companies but it is still believed that bigger companies will gain more control of mines and production compared to smaller mining companies.

“At the end of the day it just means that there’ll be fewer smaller mines and there’s a natural evolutionary process that takes place in all developing parts of the world,” said Frawley. “You’ll have the small miners who will be succeeded by stronger companies. A more efficient process will begin to emerge.”

“That takes a long time and I don’t see it changing the balance of that supply any time soon.”


The biggest obstacle rare earths metals face as an investment is that although classified under the umbrella of rare earths metals, there are 17 different types and they are separated into two categories.

“Rare earth prices are not listed like precious and base metals prices so it is difficult for the average person to invest in,” said Waters. “It’s a barrier to the growth of the industry.

“As the market is maturing, there is going to be a need for a centralized source of information.”

Although newer in the metals world than precious and base metals, information can always be found.

“They’re small markets in comparison to gold, copper and aluminum in terms of tonnage and consumption tonnages,” Frawley said. “In terms of price transparency of these markets you’ll have to dig a little deeper.”

-List of heavy and light rare earths metals and their uses-


Yttrium TV, glass and alloys

Promethium Nuclear batteries

Europium TV screens

Gadolinium Superconductors, magnets

Terbium Lasers, fuel cells and alloys

Dysprosium TVs, lasers

Holmium Lasers

Erbium Lasers, vanadium steel

Thulium X-ray source, ceramics

Yterrbium Infrared lasers, high reactive glass

Lutetium Catalyst, PET scanners


Samarium Magnets, lasers, lighting

Neodymium Magnets

Lanthanum Re-chargeable batteries

Cerium Batteries, catalysts, glass polishing

Praseodymium Magnets, glass colorant

Scandium Aluminum alloy: aerospace

By Alex Létourneau of Kitco News

Bankers, Precious Metals, And MF Global

Gold Nugget

Did bankers use the MF Global (MFGLQ.PK) bankruptcy to suppress gold and silver prices and create the panicked appearance of collapsing precious metals to give themselves additional precious time to delay the crash of the euro and the U.S. dollar? As crazy as this sounds, a closer investigation of some key data seems to imply this possibility. Though bankers claim that they created futures markets to provide a mechanism for commodity producers to hedge against volatile market prices, I have never bought the Kool-Aid the bankers were selling in this explanation for the rationale behind their creation of futures markets.

Given that today, futures and spot prices for gold and silver in the short-term are entirely set by banker manipulation of the supply and demand for paper derivatives that often have no backing of any physical metal, I believe that bankers created futures markets for the explicit intent of allowing themselves to manipulate the prices of commodities and to enrich themselves, and themselves only, through the process of alternately and artificially inflating and deflating prices as would not be allowed in any type of free market. In other words, bankers invented futures markets to allow themselves to siphon off and steal money from other parties that wanted to invest in commodities with a mechanism, risk-free to them, that required deception and zero honest work and zero integrity.

The futures markets in commodities is such a deceptive market that it is hard to know even where to begin to unravel its many mechanisms of deceit in all their glory. Futures contracts traded on the world’s largest commodity markets such as the COMEX in New York and the LBM in London allow bankers to commit reverse alchemy, turning real physical gold and real physical silver into nothing but false paper contracts and air.

Secondly, through futures contracts traded in New York and London, bankers routinely defy the economic principles of supply and demand, and set short-term prices for gold and silver that have zero to do with the supply and demand dynamics of the physical gold and physical silver market. In the world of physics, such an illogical, comparable feat of deception would be the indefinite suspension of the law of gravity. Bankers invented paper-derivative gold and silver markets to allow themselves to defy and suspend every sound economic principle that exists.

This is important to understand because not only does understanding this concept make the bulk of what you learn in business school a lie and entirely useless, but also because bullion banks, such as Deutsche Bank (DB), Citigroup (C), JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Goldman Sachs (GS), et al, that serve as the puppet conduits for more powerful families that control Central Banks, routinely used to lease physical gold into the open market as their primary mechanism to suppress the price of gold and silver.

However, as their mechanism of fractional reserve banking began to threaten the viability and utility of the most widely used fiat currencies in the world, the USD and the Euro, bankers understood that they needed to utilize and/or create another mechanism to suppress gold and silver prices that could replace selling physical PMs into the open market as they no longer wished to give up a solid asset with no third party counter-risk for what they knew they were turning into essentially worthless pieces of paper.

Thus bankers increasingly turned to the paper futures markets to manipulate and control the price of gold and silver and also served up additional bogus derivative products to the public like the GLD and SLV ETFs. Bankers knew that there was no way they could possibly control the price of gold and silver if the supply and demand determinants of physical gold and physical silver had anything to do with the price, so they conspired to fool the world into believing that the fake paper price they set was set by the supply and demand of the physical markets.

Collapsing of Gold/Silver Futures Markets Directly Related to MF Global Collapse?

And here’s where MF Global enters the banking cartel gold and silver price suppression scheme. Today, short-term futures and spot prices of gold and silver have almost nothing to do with the physical supply and demand dynamics of gold and silver, as odd as that may sound. Bankers created the futures markets and paper derivatives in gold and silver to kill free markets and for the express purpose of suppressing gold and silver prices.

Today we have no idea what the free market price of gold and silver should be or could be, besides the fact that both would be multiples higher than their current price, because of the fake paper market in gold and silver that the bankers created.

As well, bankers ensured that they armed a legion of worker bees in commercial investment firms all over the world that would represent these paper derivatives backed by very little physical gold and silver to their clients as the equivalent of investing in 99.999% pure physical gold and silver. In doing so, the worker bees thereby lured people all over the world into what will turn out to be the fatal mistake of not buying millions of troy ounces of physical gold and silver and instead buying their offering of fool’s gold and fool’s silver.

When we receive a massive default of gold and silver futures contracts that stand for delivery on the COMEX or LBM, or if the SLV and GLD default, then, and only then, will the public start to see true price discovery of physical gold and physical silver in action. However, for clients of MF Global, unfortunately, they have already experienced the mistake of buying fool’s gold and fool’s silver from the bankers and have received air in exchange for gold and silver futures contracts they purchased that stood for delivery.

Bankers invented fake paper gold and silver contracts, because they knew that if they could not fulfill contractual obligations to deliver physical gold and physical silver because the contracts were a binding lie to begin with), that they could always renege on these contractual obligations and give the people the nothingness they truly owned in return. And thus, we have the story of MF Global.

Ratings agencies downgraded MF Global on Oct 25 and MF Global declared bankruptcy on Oct 31. If one scours the data that the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) releases via its aggregated Commitment of Trader reports during this time period, one may not notice any data that immediately stands. However, investigation of the disaggregated reports reveals far more interesting patterns that almost undoubtedly can be traced back to the collapse of MF Global.

In a period just preceding the MF Global collapse, from late August to mid October, the open interest (OI) in longs in gold and silver futures within the Managed Money category collapsed by 33.75% in gold (202,430 to 136,103) and 44.74% in silver (29,849 to 16,494). During this exact same time period, shorts in the gold and silver futures in the Managed Money category increased by 19.3% and 83.82% respectively (see the chart below).

Within the Managed Money category, between Sept 13th and 27th, in just a two-week period, the drop in OI in the longs in gold and silver futures was even more pronounced, with a 25.41% plunge and 34.3% plunge in silver. I imagine if someone could trace the connection of this plunge in OI in the Managed Money category in the gold and silver futures markets, one would discover that a good deal of the plunge was somehow directly tied to the impending MF Global bankruptcy and its freezing and/or liquidation of gold and silver futures accounts in its possession.

After Phase I of the collapse in OI in the gold and silver futures markets, Phase II followed. When the story about MF Global’s legalized client theft hit the presses, an enormous public distrust of the entire futures markets started to build. If clients lost millions of dollars in gold and silver futures accounts due to forced liquidation or freezing of contracts that they were holding for delivery, anyone that had considered using the futures markets to take delivery of real gold and real silver following the MF Global debacle obviously reconsidered their options.

Thus, due to the massive fraud of the futures markets that was revealed by the MF Global collapse, another huge drop in the OI of gold and silver longs in the Managed Money category occurred during Phase II (as labeled in the above chart) that respectively amounted to an additional respective 11.79% and 7.48% plunge. In essence, it appears that the MF Global collapse served up the exact same price suppression effect as a CME issued initial or maintenance margin hike in gold and silver futures, which forces a tidal wave of unwanted and involuntary liquidation of gold and silver longs that consequently violate technical support lines and trigger technical sells.

Of course, we also have to factor in the temporary OI-increasing effect of the risk-on CME event when they lowered initial margins to a 1:1 ratio with maintenance margins at the onset of November. Still, given the figures presented in the chart above, it seems that bankers used the MF Global collapse to force liquidation of gold and silver longs in the futures market quite rapidly and drastically. Why is this important? This is important because typically strong hands ride out any temporary banker manipulations of gold and silver prices downward.

In this case, strong hands, if they existed at MF Global, were not given this opportunity and were forced to liquidate or had their accounts frozen whether or not they desired such an outcome. Furthermore, if primarily strong hands were forced out of the futures market, this would leave the majority of volume in the gold and silver futures markets primarily in the hands of the criminal banking cartel.

We’ve seen repeatedly, this past year in the US SP 500 index, when low trading volume primarily controlled by the banking cartel has translated into curious and inexplicable market bounces of 2% in a single day. In other words, low trading volume allows bankers excessive and easy manipulation over markets. If this was indeed the scenario bankers deliberately created with the MF Global collapse, then the MF Global collapse and simultaneous collapse of open interest in gold and silvers futures certainly would have paved the way for the banking cartel to easily manipulate gold and silver prices.

There was also further circumstantial evidence that bankers used the MF Global collapse to collapse gold and silver futures markets at the end of 2011. For example, in an article posted on the SilverDoctors blog by Jim Willie in which he gathered data regarding the amount of physical gold and silver ounces represented by the longs at MF Global that were standing for delivery in the futures markets before these contracts imploded, he stated: “JP Morgan increased the amount of registered silver and gold by precisely the amount that was suppose to be delivered [by MF Global]…JP Morgan effectively averted both a Comex default and a European Sovereign Debt implosion.”

Silver Lining in the MF Global Debacle?

Can there be a silver lining in the MF Global debacle? I believe that in the long-term, this extremely unethical, negative event could transform into a positive game-changer in the way people buy large amounts of gold and silver. Obviously, the futures market is not a safe market for anyone seeking to take delivery of millions of dollars of physical gold and silver as many MF Global clients learned. The GLD and SLV ETFs, of course, are no safer than any gold or silver futures contract for the same reasons.

So in the future, and I mean the immediate future starting now, I believe that large buyers of physical gold and silver will now opt to bypass the bullion bank’s middle men in the futures market and go directly to the gold and silver mining companies to buy large quantities of bullion. This should eventually help usher in the death of futures markets as a mechanism for buying physical gold and physical silver and be a step towards establishing a free market for gold and silver prices for the first time in our lives.

Mark Cutifani, CEO of AngloGold Ashanti, recently echoed the same:

“Major [asset management fund] buyers are finding it is hard to get physical gold. People are coming directly to us [for large gold purchases,] people who want tonnes of physical gold, people with serious financial muscle, because they are finding it is very difficult to secure the volume of gold they want. That is something we have noticed over the last 18 months, and it has been increasing in the last six months. People are finding it’s hard to get physical gold.”

People that want to own physical gold and physical silver never should have been buying the GLD, SLV, or gold and silver futures. Now, in light of the MF Global debacle, scores of people will stay away from these fraudulent vehicles for good.

About the author: JS Kim is the Chief Investment Strategist and founder of SmartKnowledgeU, a fiercely independent investment research and consulting firm with a mission to help re-establish the monetary freedom that bankers have stolen from us. Despite believing that gold and silver will remain highly volatile in 2012, JS believes that long-term holders of physical gold and silver will be richly rewarded as bogus paper gold and silver derivatives start collapsing and reach their intrinsic value in coming years. Follow JS on Twitter and Facebook.

Republishing rights: The above article may be reprinted as long as all text, links and the author acknowledgment remain intact and exactly as printed above.

Article source:

DOE report finds 5 clean-energy related REEs at risk in short-term

Rare Earth Elements

The substantial capex required for the development of a rare earths mine, compounded by major miners’ lack of interest in mining rare earths, may spell trouble in meeting future demand.

A report issued Thursday by the U.S. Department of Energy has determined supplies of five rare earths metals-dysprosium, terbium, europium, neodymium and yttrium-are at risk in the short term, potentially impacting clean energy technology deployment in the years ahead.

The 2011 Critical Minerals Strategy examined 16 elements for criticality in wind turbines, electric vehicles, photovoltaic cells and fluorescent lighting. Of those 16 elements, eight are rare earth metals valued for their unique magnetic, optical and catalytic properties.

Five rare earth elements used in magnets for wind turbines and electric vehicles or phosphors for energy-efficient lighting were found to be critical in the short term (present-2015).

Between the short term and the medium term (2015-2025), the importance to clean energy and supply risk shift for some materials.

Other elements-cerium, indium, lanthanum and tellurium-were found to be near-critical.

DOE’s strategy to address critical materials challenges rests on three pillars. To manage supply risk, multiple sources of materials are required. “This means taking steps to facilitate extraction, processing and manufacturing here in the United States, as well as encouraging other nations to expedite alternative supplies,” the report said. “In all cases, extraction, separation and processing should be done in an environmentally sound manner.

“Second, substitutes must be developed,” the report cautioned. “Research leading to material and technology substitutes will improve flexibility and help meet the materials needs of the clean energy economy.”

“Third, recycling, reuse and more efficient use could significantly lower world demand for newly extracted materials,” the DOE advised. “Research into recycling processes coupled with well-designed policies will help make recycling economically viable over time.”

The report also contains three in-depth technology analyses with the following conclusions:

· “Rare earth elements play an important role in petroleum refining, but the sector’s vulnerability to rare earth supply disruptions is limited.”

· “Manufacturers of wind power and electric vehicle technologies are pursuing strategies to respond to possible rare earth shortages. Permanent magnets containing neodymium and dysprosium are used in wind turbine generators and electric vehicle motors. Manufacturers of both technologies are current making decisions on future system design, trading off the performance benefits of neodymium and dysprosium against vulnerability to potential supply shortages.”

 · “As lighting energy efficiency standards are implemented globally, heavy rare earths used in lightning phosphors may be in short supply. In the United States, two sets of lighting energy efficiency standards coming into effect in 2012 will likely lead to an increase in demand for fluorescent lamps containing phosphors made with europium, terbium and yttrium.”

In their analysis, DOE found R&D plays a central role in developing substitutes for rare earth elements. In the past year, the agency has increased its investment in magnet, motor and generator substitutes.

“The demand for key materials has also been driven largely by government regulation and policy,” the report observed.

“Issues surrounding critical materials touch on the missions of many federal agencies,” said the DOE. Since March 2010, an interagency working group on critical materials and their supply chains convened by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has been examining market risks, critical materials in emerging high-growth industries and opportunities for long term-benefit through innovation.

The report also found that, in general, mining and metal processing expertise “has gradually declined in countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, although the need to develop and retain such expertise has received increasing attention in recent years.”

While the number of REO-producing firms located outside of China is small, the proliferation of new rare earth companies “could help ease market concentrations in the years ahead,” the DOE observed. However, “one of the most significant requirements in the rare earth supply chain is the amount of capital needed to commence mining and refining operations…”

“The extraction and, in particular, the processing of rare earth ore is extremely capital intensive, ranging from $100 million to $1 billion of capital expenditure depending on the location and production capacity,” the report noted. “Bringing a greenfield mine to production likely costs in excess of $1 billion.”

“The estimated financial investment needed just to prove the resource (e.g., exploration and drilling) can be up to $50 million,” said the DOE. “The up-front cost of production capacity can range from $15,000 to $40,000 per tonne of annual capacity.’

“Unlike other commodities, rare earth mining generally does not appeal to the major global mining firms because it is a relatively small market (about $3 billion in 2010) and is often less predictable and less transparent than other commodity markets,” the report said.

“Additionally, the processing of rare earth elements into high-purity REOs is fundamentally a chemical process that is often highly specialized to meet the needs of particular customers,” the study noted. “It requires unique mineral processing know-how that is not transferrable to other mining operations. These factors reduce the appeal of rare earths production to the major mining companies, leaving the field mostly to junior miners.”

The report observed that smaller mining companies face a number of challenges, including being less well-capitalized than the majors and may find it difficult to raise money from traditional market. Certain macroeconomic conditions, particularly tight credit and volatile equity markets, can contribute to these difficulties.

“Successful public flotations require fairly advanced operations with proven resources, a bankable feasibility study and often customer contracts or off-take agreements in place that ensure some level of revenue,” the agency said. The DOE noted that Molycorp and Lynas Corporation have the largest capitalizations, “reflecting in part their expansion of large established mines.”

By: Dorothy Kosich

Weekly Google Plus 52 Silver 1 ounce Coins or Bars Giveaway

Google Plus One Weekly Silver Coin Giveaway by Swiss Metal Assets, S.A.It is 2012 and we are giving away 52 Silver 1 ounce Coins or Bars.  Swiss Metal Assets is committed to bringing you the latest information on the Precious Metals and Rare Industrial Metals market.

Silver is a store of value and one of the critical metals according to the United States Geological Survey and the British Geological Survey.  Silver is so important to the world around us that we think that a weekly giveaway is in order.

Giveaway rules:

- Please Follow Swiss Metal Assets on Google Plus by adding us to your circles

- Please reshare the post you saw this Giveaway on in your Google Plus stream.

- As a comment please guess the closing price of Silver by Thursday at 1pm for the Comex Silver closing price on Fridays at 6pm.

– You can also help us out by giving us a +1 on our website, not required but we sure wouldn´t mind.

This is an international competition so everyone can try to guess the price weekly.  We are a German company based in Panama and we welcome everyone.

Endangered Elements: Tungsten Among China’s Potential Embargo List

China Tungsten Carbide Rods

ANALYSIS – – It didn’t take long for the panic to set in, last year, when the Chinese government flexed its muscle by threatening the world’s Rare Earth Element (REE) supply. With 95% of REE supplies coming from China, that scare was indeed legitimate. But REEs aren’t the only elements with which China has the potential to choke off. On American Elements’ 2011 Top 5 US Endangered Elements List, three elements (tungsten, indium and neodymium) have over 50% of world supply coming from Chinese mines.

To refresh the memory of those who followed the rare earth surge from last year, and the subsequent piquing of interest in rare earth companies, it began with Japan. As the summer of 2010 was coming to a close, reports of an embargo of shipments to Japan for REEs raised concern for manufacturers who depend upon the elements for production primarily in the tech industry. Within a month, that embargo spread to North America and Europe, and concern over Chinese monopolization rose, along with REE prices, and those of the companies devoted to them.

When the embargo ended, relief came to the sector, while the pace of development outside of China received only a minor increase. The threat of supply shortages still lingers, especially with tungsten, indium and neodymium.

The example of tungsten is not to be ignored, as 85% of global production comes from China, which has already indicated it might end all exports altogether due to domestic demand increases.

With the highest melting point and greatest tensile strength of all elements, tungsten’s importance is unquestionable. Used in all situations that call for high temperature thresholds or hardness and strength, tungsten is imperative to many modern living standards that depend upon it. From a US perspective, the element’s use in the aerospace program, electronics and military (including in bullets and armor) is critical. To the mining industry as a whole, tungsten is a savior with many uses within the assembly of mining equipment itself, including drills in need of durability.

Strangely enough, the United States dismantled domestic production of tungsten ore in 1994 with the last tungsten mine, the Pine Creek Mine in Inoyo, California, going down as a historical footnote en route to Chinese dependence.

Today, tungsten production remains primarily within China, but awareness of a need to develop outside of the PRC is becoming clearer. Options in the western hemisphere are appearing, and may soon be getting the attention they need to aid this drive for domestic independence. Juniors such as North American Tungsten [NTC – TSX.V] and Playfair Mining [PLY – TSX.V] may provide answers that mitigate a possible future supply breakdown.

For North American Tungsten, the title of being the western world’s leader in tungsten production doesn’t come lightly. Through developing its Cantung Mine, it provides tungsten concentrate production within the borders of Canada’s Northwest Territories, which from an international standpoint is a much more secure mining investment environment to work within.

At a much earlier stage, Playfair Mining is not yet a producer, but is heavily leveraged to the price of tungsten, which today sits around $440/MTU (“metric tonne unit”) or over $20/lb. With a goal in mind to partner with an end user of tungsten metal in order to finance its Grey River deposit into production, Playfair is well aware of the potential impact a tungsten shortage would carry.

Due to its high level of use in the manufacturing sector, a significant number of Fortune 500 companies are dependant upon tungsten’s availability. General Electric and its Tungsten Products Division, along with others like Kennametal and ATI Firth Sterling are among those that would most likely benefit from securing a long term tungsten supply, and are among potential targets should Playfair seek a high-worth partner to put its nearest term tungsten property into production.

The company has 4 high-grade deposits with two located in the Yukon, one in the Northwest Territories and another on the southern coast of Newfoundland. Each of the properties was acquired strategically during a period of massively deflated tungsten prices, prior to this latest surge over the $440/MTU mark. This increase represents a 70% rise from the recent low prices that graced Playfair’s entry period. While the commodity’s price has risen, the company’s stock has yet to follow suit.

While the current price of the stock seems to have languished, the team is making strides to be better prepared for when the bigger end-users in need of tungsten come knocking. The board includes experienced individuals who have taken deals into production before, as well as Director James Robertson who took the last big tungsten company outside of China to successful acquisition.

In both combined 43-101 compliant and non-compliant resource categories, Playfair’s tungsten properties contain more than an estimated 5.5 million MTUs of WO3. It’s to be expected, though, that since Playfair is an exploration company, these resources have room for expansion.

As economic uncertainty lingers in all global markets, crucial and endangered elements such as REEs, tungsten, indium and neodymium will be within the watchful eye of western manufacturers in need of these ingredients for their operations. Whether another anticipated panic is inflicted by possible impending embargo actions by China doesn’t change the dependence we have on endangered elements. And like last year’s REE crisis, a price surge on those companies were set to move prior complications is entirely a likely scenario.

By: G. Joel Chury

PwC survey says “Mineral, metal scarcity would deteriorate”

Rare Earth Elements

LONDON – Scarcity of metals and minerals will become more severe in the next five years, with the automotive, chemicals and energy industries likely to be hit hardest, according to a global survey of company executives by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

The survey of 69 executives across seven sectors, published on Wednesday, found that European companies were most concerned about a shortage, with 71% of respondents seeing scarcity as a risk, compared with 53% in Asia Pacific and 50% in the Americas.

“Put simply, many businesses now recognize that we are living beyond the planet’s means,” said Malcolm Preston, PwC’s global sustainability leader, in a statement.

Companies pinpointed growing demand for materials and political issues, such as China’s export restrictions on rare earth metals, as the main drivers of scarcity.

Those in the renewable energy, automotive, energy and utilities sectors said they currently faced supply instability, while

those in the aviation, high-tech and infrastructure sectors expected increasing disruption of supply by 2016.

The report suggested that some industries might use scarcity to their competitive advantage. Some 43% of respondents said scarcity offered an opportunity at present, while 59% said opportunities would increase in the next five years, with the automotive sector most positive.

“New business models will be fundamental to the ability to respond appropriately to the risks and opportunities posed by the scarcity of minerals and metals,” PwC’s Preston said.

Despite abundant material reserves in Asia, particularly in China, which produces about 97% of the world’s rare earth metals, Asian firms still expect substantial problems as explosive growth in emerging markets puts pressure on supplies.

PwC listed 14 materials as “critical”, including tantalum, which is used in computers and mobile telephones; fluorspar, found in cement, glass and iron; and lithium, used in wind turbines and batteries for hybrid cars.

Eighty-three percent of surveyed firms said their suppliers considered metal scarcity to be an important issue, but only 61% said they thought their customers were concerned about it.

In Europe, 96% of executives said their governments were aware of the problem, compared with 58% in Asia and 54% in the Americas.

Almost half of companies rated their preparedness for scarcity as ‘high’ to ‘very high’. The renewable energy sector had the highest percentage at 67% who were highly confident about their plans to combat a supply shortage, while just 33% of companies in the chemical and high-tech sectors rated their preparedness as “high” to “very high”.


Why Buy and Store Metals Offshore

Offshore Storage Facilities for Rare Earth and Industrial Metals

Today more than ever it is important for a person to diversify the location of their assets. If you are one of my readers there is a good chance that you believe in Precious and Rare Metals as a form of protection against inflation, and governmental shenanigans. Metals give a person piece of mind like very few other investments can.

Some of the benefits of Metals include.
  1. Paper assets can depreciate to zero, Metals will not.
  2. Metals are a hard asset that can be handled, free of third party interference.
  3. Metals are a store of value.
  4. Metals are both a form of money and used in industry.
  5. Metals are highly liquid.

Why take your metals offshore? Inflation according to the US government is running close to 3% and banks are paying a paltry 1-2% for interest. People are increasingly worried about government seizure of their paper assets and hard assets. Recently Portugal decided to take over its pension funds until the financial crisis passes. As we know once a government takes over something they rarely give it back. How long do you think until nations like the USA, UK, Germany, Canada and Australia start invading their pension funds? In 1933 the US government under the leadership of Franklin D. Roosevelt required US citizens to turn their Gold in for currency. Do you think that the governments of today are any less bold?

The four main benefits of offshore investing include.
  1. Asset Protection
  2. Confidentiality
  3. Tax Sheltering
  4. Diversification

There are many different ways a person can buy and store metals internationally. A client could buy and store in their personal name. They could store their metals in an offshore IRA. They could purchase their metals through a company that they control. They could use a Trust or an offshore structure that they control. This opens up a wide range of opportunities for the savvy metals buyer.

In the spring of 2012 we are tentatively scheduled to open our latest storage facility in Panama. We have had many clients asking us if we knew of an option for them to store their metals closer to home. Our waiting list of clients looking to take advantage of this opportunity continues to grow. It will be located in the Panama Pacifico Free Zone which is the old Howard Air Force Base in the Canal Zone. Currently we have our facility in Zurich, Switzerland in the Swiss Free Zone. If you would like more information to buy Metals or to be added to our Panama storage wait list please feel free to contact myself or the team at Swiss Metal Assets.

Customers ask, How would I transport the Metals to Panama? Brinks is the logical choice for me. They offer door to door service for the client. You can learn more on their website.

The financial situations are getting more and more complicated for nations throughout the world. Don´t you think it is time that you protected your assets?

By: Randy Hilarski – The Rare Metals Guy

Molycorp, Daido, Mitsubishi form next generation rare earth magnets JV

Neodymium magnets are very powerful, much more powerful than magnets most people are familiar with.Molycorp has formed a joint venture with Daido Steel and Mitsubishi to manufacture next generation NdFeB permanent rare earth magnets.


Molycorp, Daido Steel, and Mitsubishi have formed a joint venture to manufacture and sell next-generation neodymium-iron-boron (NdFeB) permanent rare earth magnets, producing greater performance with less reliance on dysprosium.

The joint venture will be financed by the three companies and by a government subsidy sponsored by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry.

The effort will utilize Daido’s commercial-scale magnet manufacturing technologies, Mitsubishi’s domestic and international marketing and sales network, and Molycorp’s rare earth oxide, metal and alloy manufacturing capabilities, according to Molycorp.

Target markets for the joint venture are the automotive and home appliance markets. “The joint venture has been provisionally awarded a supply agreement for a next-generation electric vehicle with a major automotive manufacturer,” Molycorp advised.

Rare earth magnets currently fall into two basic types: samarium cobalt and neodymium-iron-boron, both of which can be bonded or sintered. Currently, between 45,000 and 50,000 tons of sintered neodymium magnets are produced each year, mainly in China and Japan.

“The technology for use by the joint venture is a new and novel approach that does not depend on the use of patents held by other magnet companies,” said Molycorp. Instead, it “allows for the manufacture of permanent rare earth magnets that deliver greater performance with less reliance on dysprosium, a relatively scare rare earth.”

“The process also results in higher production yields,” the company added.

The technology is licensed from Intermetallics, a partnership between Mitsubishi, Daido and Masato Sagawa, co-inventor of the NdFeB magnet. Made with neodymium, praseodymium and dysprosium (or terbium), NdFeB magnets are considered the world’s most powerful permanent magnet. They are a component of high-performance motors used in the power trains of electric vehicles, hybrid vehicles and wind power generators, as well as in motors in home appliance and industrial applications.

The International Energy Agency estimates electric motors are used in 45% of global power consumption. The NdFeB magnets in motors could help reduce that power consumption by 20% and potentially reduce global CO2 emissions by 1.2 billion tons.

“I am happy and very honored that Molycorp is able to partner with these extraordinary companies, who are global leaders and innovators in so many areas,” said Mark Smith, Molycorp CEO. “Molycorp is also pleased that the joint venture can break ground almost immediately and will be able to produce some of the world’s most powerful rare earth magnets in as little as 14 months.”

The JV plans to build an initial 500 metric-ton-per year magnet manufacturing facility in Nakatsugawa, Japan (Gifu Prefecture) with start-up expected by January 2013. The companies expect to commence work on the new facility next month and eventually expand operations in the U.S. and elsewhere.

“The next generation magnet manufacturing technologies being utilized by the joint venture are a perfect complement to the advanced technologies Molycorp is deploying across our own rare earth manufacturing supply chain,” Smith said, adding the initiative is a major milestone in Molycorp’s mine-to-magnets technology.

The capital contribution ratio of the joint venture will be 30% by Molycorp, 35.5% by Daido, and 34.5% by Mitsubishi.

By: Dorothy Kosich

Battle lines drawn in gold price direction predictions

Precious Metal Gold in Bars
Precious Metal Gold

While some headlines are predicting the end of the bull market for gold, many commentators remain bullish on the yellow metal and all agree that more volatility should be expected.


As gold prices plunged as much as 3.5% in trade yesterday, permabear and economist, Nouriel Roubini, was engaging in some gold bull baiting on Twitter.

“Gold at a 7 weeks [sic] low down to 1635. Where is 2000 gold dear gold bugs?” He said, and, later in the day, “Gold bugs in hiding as gold prices plunge.”

At roughly the same time gold mining entrepreneur Rob McEwen in a talk to the Geological Society of Nevada, stood firm on his prediction that gold prices would hit $5,000 over the long term

McEwen and Roubini represent polar opposite visions of the metal that are long held and well reported on and so their sticking to their guns came as little surprise. More noteworthy in the context of the second-worst rout in the metal since the 2008 financial crisis were the recent comments by author and economist, Dennis Gartman.

In his most recent letter, Gartman was quoted by Bloomberg as writing, ” “Since the early autumn here in the Northern Hemisphere gold has failed to make a new high. Each high has been progressively lower than the previous high, and now we’ve confirmation that the new interim low is lower than the previous low. We have the beginnings of a real bear market, and the death of a bull.”

He went on to add that while buying in China rose significantly in October, the news of the surge failed to move markets, “Buying of that sort should have sent gold prices soaring,” Gartman wrote. “One of the oldest rules of trading is simply this: a market that cannot or does not respond to bullish news is a bearish market not a bullish one.”

The question now becomes, are the recent falls a sign of a longer term pull back in the metal, or rather a shorter term move brought about by year-end squaring and liquidations by the more speculative longs, in order to cover other loss-making positions.

While Gartman has turned bearish, many other commentators remain positive about the longer term outlook for the metal.

UBS’s Edel Tully wrote this morning, “Our core view on gold remains bullish. We forecast an average 2012 price of $2,050. Most of the factors that pushed gold higher in 2011 are not going away. Indeed, a compelling case for higher gold returns next year can be built on: persistent sovereign stress, an expected recession in Europe, benign growth across developed markets, a relatively sedate outlook for competing asset classes, still-low interest rates in the US, and further rate declines in Europe, as we expect. Adding to the mix another of our expectations – that central banks will maintain their 2011 gold buying spree – makes gold a compelling investment thesis.”

However, while the bank remains positive on gold it has lowered its average gold price estimates for both 2011 and 2012 by 2% and 1% respectively to $1,570/oz and $2,050/oz.

And, overall, the group is more bearish on commodities in general, ” Two of our most important signals for the miners and commodities have turned negative. Capital is flowing out of emerging markets and back to the US, undermining commodity demand – because macro data and credit conditions there are improving, making an imminent commodity-supporting ‘QE3′ unlikely. Meanwhile, European bank deleveraging promises more credit stress, directing commodity consumers and traders to destock. Right now, commodities need support from either a resurgent China or a substantial, US/European-led QE programme.”

Standard Bank, writing in its daily commodities note yesterday said of the weakness in the yellow metal, We believe that this downward pressure is likely to remain in place. Physical market demand from India and South East Asia continues to pick up, with gold below $1,650 providing support at this key technical level. However, as pointed out yesterday, the pick-up in demand is from relatively low levels, and overall demand remains well below levels seen in October.”

But, as it points out, “While gold in dollar-terms is under huge pressure, gold in euro-terms only shed €20. Market sentiment and momentum has also turned bearish on gold, reflected in the short-dated gold skew where puts are in high demand relative to calls.”

Silver specialist and precious metals commentator, David Morgan, speaking on’s metals weekly podcast, described the situation currently being seen in markets as one of “wait-you-out or scare-you-out.”

He explained that either markets will “scare you out” with huge drops that are very rapid – or “wear you out where you get these long consolidations where silver and/or gold do not make new highs but the fundamentals keep getting better and better.”

Currently he says, there is a lot of fear in markets and, while a minority of people view gold and silver as the “ultimate cash” most of the world’s population view currency as such and, as a result, when there is a liquidity squeeze markets move into cash.

“There’s a rush from any asset – real estate, stocks, bonds, even metals, and especially paper metals, into the monetary base or the ultimate monetary base which is the currency. And that puts a lot of pressure upward in certain currencies like the US dollar because right now it’s perceived to be the safest… I believe this is an intermediate term situation which puts pressure [downward] on the gold and silver price and also puts pressure upward on the currencies, especially the ones perceived to be the strongest and safest.”

All in all, while a lot of commentators remain bullish long-term there is a significant amount of fear present in markets, especially as we head toward the year-end. As usual coming up to and during the holidays emotions are high and when you mix in a continued crisis in the euro zone, looming debt problems in the U.S. and the frantic scramble to square the accounts before December 31st, it is safe to guess that markets are both scared and worn out. How long that will last though, is anyone’s guess.

By: Geoff Candy

Eumabois Toolgroup Expects Difficult Tungsten Market to Continue

Tungsten /ˈtʌŋstən/, also known as wolfram is a chemical element with the chemical symbol W and atomic number 74.

Rare Industrial Metal - Tungsten / Wolfram

FRANKFURT, GERMANY – Despite shrinking demand, the situation of tungsten prices and availability is still tense. Tungsten is the main constituent of hard metals, which are one of the key materials for the production of cutting edges for tools used in several operations and machining processes in the wood and furniture industry.

In October, the price of the most popular tungsten-based commercial product (ammonium paratungstate, APT) was around 450 dollars per metric ton (mtu). At mid 2010, such price was in the range of 250 dollars. The current cooling of global economy has granted a short rest to tools manufacturers, with stable prices for a few months now. “However, this positive signal should not reduce our level of attention to the difficult situation of raw material markets,” said Paul Oertli, president of Eumabois Toolgroup. “As a result of reduced export by Chinese suppliers, prices are still at critical levels despite a slight reduction of demand from many tools manufacturers,” Oertli added.

In October, the “British Geological Survey” placed tungsten at number one in the list of elements ranked by unreliability of supplies in 2011.

“In 2012, we expect a still difficult market scenario. Chinese suppliers dominating the sector will focus on tungsten as strategic metal also in the future. Other raw material sources will not help relieve tension in the short and medium term,” said Dr. Andreas Bock, president of Wolfram Bergbau und Hütten AG, Austria, one of the few European suppliers of tungsten and related carbides.


LG leads global media tablet display market

iPad, Kindle Fire and Nook design wins put LG at top of global media tablet display market.

What do disparate media tablet devices like the Apple iPad, Amazon Kindle Fire, and the Barnes & Noble Nook have in common? They all depend on South Korea’s LG Display as the main supplier of their display panels—a coveted distinction that has made the company the world’s top supplier of media tablet screens, according IHS.

LG Display is the leader by a wide margin of the tablet display market, with a 51 percent share of global unit shipments in the second quarter of 2011. The company is well ahead of South Korean rival Samsung—which also supplies panels for the Apple iPad as well for its own Samsung Galaxy Tab—at a distant second with a 35 percent share. Third-place Chimei Innolux Corp. of Taiwan, another Apple supplier that also provides for the Chinese white-box market, controls a 9 percent share, as shown in the figure attached. The remaining 5 percent of the tablet display market is split among several smaller firms.

LG Display also enjoys a competitive advantage in terms of economy of scale, as it devotes more capacity than other manufacturers to making media tablet displays. Such generous capacity—as well as being Apple’s main supplier—has catapulted LG Display to a favorable position in the market.

Tablets reshape small/medium display business

From the time the iPad was introduced last year by Apple, tablet devices have becomeone of the main driving forces for growth in the market for small- and medium-sized displays, defined as screens smaller than 10 inches in the diagonal dimension.

Tablet shipments are expected to surge an astounding 273 percent this year compared to 2010. And at a time when sales of many consumer electronic items have stalled, media tablet shipments will maintain a robust compound annual growth rate of 45 percent from 2011 to 2015, showcasing the healthy prospects that lie ahead for the space.

Daunting specs

Companies hoping to enter the media tablet display space face a number of barriers. For one, displays hoping to merit consideration for inclusion in best-selling tablets must meet demanding specifications for size, pixel format, power consumption and response time.

The standard pixel format for 9.x-inch displays—the size category of the iPad, and the dominant dimension in the industry—is 1,024 by 768 at 132 pixels per inch.

Meanwhile, the standard pixel format for 7.x-inch displays—the size used by the new Kindle Fire and the Galaxy Tab—is at 1,024 by 600 at 170 pixels-per-inch. There is conjecture that Apple will implement its Retina display with resolutions of greater than 300 pixels per inch in the new iPad 3, which is expected to launch in 2012. If so, this will up the resolution trend in the media tablet PC space, challenging other tablet makers to follow suit.

Panel suppliers that cannot meet these exacting display standards or efficiently produce viable displays at such sizes and resolutions will find it very hard to compete in the market, IHS believes.

IPS competition

IPS LCD technology soon may encounter some stiff competition. Japan’s Sharp Corp. has introduced a new oxide material consisting of indium, gallium, and zinc called IGZO that supports high electron mobility—20 to 30 times faster than conventional amorphous silicon (a-Si) technology. Sharp plans to commercialize a TFT LCD using IGZO material by downsizing the transistor and increasing the light transmittance. This will make the display more power efficient and enable higher pixel densities.

IGZO production can be achieved on existing a-Si lines with little modification, making it cost competitive. Sharp plans to manufacture IGZO displays at its eighth-generation a-Si fab in Kameyama, Japan with production expected to start this year.

Another variant of the wide viewing angle technology very similar to IPS LCD is Fringe Field Sequential (FFS) LCD which continues to be used for tablet PC displays. The patent for FFS LCD resides with Taiwanese-based LCD supplier E Ink Corp. (Hydis). However, because of the lack of capacity at E Ink to manufacture larger-sized panels, E Ink licenses this technology to other LCD suppliers, including LG Display.

With the tablet wars ensuing in earnest, the technology that comes out ahead may well determine which display supplier shines brightest in the years to come.


Gallium nitride based devices set to bring substantial boost to power efficiency

Gallium nitride has long been known to have useful properties when it comes to electronic components. Even so, its application has largely been confined to more exotic areas of the industry, particularly rf transistors.

But GaN is beginning to find application in what could be considered the mainstream, with some of its proponents suggesting its arrival could mark the beginning of the end for the traditional power mosfet.

One of the first companies to bring GaN technology to the embedded power market was International Rectifier (IR), which launched the GaNpowIR platform. But IR is not alone in exploring the application of GaN in the mainstream; a number of companies are now targeting the opportunities, including Efficient Power Conversion (EPC), whose chief executive Alex Lidow held the same role with IR.

Lidow, an unabashed GaN enthusiast, sees the technology offering a ‘huge benefit’ over silicon. But he realises that, to start the ball rolling, the industry needs to make a ‘leap of faith’. “Since we launched EPC, we have won 350 customers,” he said. “But we’ve also seen third parties – Texas Instruments, for example – introducing parts which work with our devices. There is always scepticism of new technology, but we are working with bigger companies as time goes on.”

But why should designers consider using GaN based parts? “It’s fundamentally superior to silicon,” Lidow asserted. “This is because of two very important properties. Firstly, it’s critical electric field is 10 times more than that of silicon; terminals can be closer together and this means smaller devices. Secondly, electron mobility is much better than in silicon because different physics is involved.”

In silicon, said Lidow, electrons hop from crystal to crystal. “In GaN, electrons are confined in a 2d gas defined by quantum mechanics. There is one probability function which allows them to move easily along the surface at high velocity. When you put these two things together, GaN should be 10,000 times more efficient than silicon.”

For the moment, GaN devices aren’t showing that level of improvement; EPC’s first generation parts showed a five to tenfold boost, according to Lidow. Why has the theory not translated into practice? “When power mosfets were introduced in 1978,” Lidow pointed out, “they were 2.5 orders of magnitude away from their theoretical performance. It took time to work out how to squeeze the performance out. It’s the same for GaN, but we’ll get there.”

One of the attractions of GaN, in Lidow’s view, is that power mosfet technology is essentially mature. “Since the turn of the Millennium,” he continued, “there have only been incremental, expensive improvements. Why use power mosfets when you can get at least five times better performance ‘out of the box’ with GaN?”

From his previous experience with power mosfets, Lidow says there are four barriers which stand in the way of the mainstream adoption of GaN technology: will it enable new applications?; is it easy to use?; is it cost effective?; and is it reliable? “As you begin to satisfy these questions,” he said, “you gain more customers.”

Positive factors

• New applications
Lidow believes there are a number of emerging applications which will suit GaN. “In the next few years, we’ll see a range of companies introducing products that will transmit power wirelessly over distances of up to 0.5m with good efficiency. In the next 10 years, domestic power sockets will begin to become obsolete. But these applications require high frequency, high power and high voltage abilities, all of which point to GaN.”

Another application which requires a similar set of abilities is rf envelope tracking. Lidow said: “GaN will improve the efficiency of rf transmission by up to 40% and, as time goes by, the technology will end up in mobile phones.”

And there are also good prospects for using GaN in radiation hard applications. “We’ve demonstrated that GaN is more than 10 times better than silicon in terms of radiation tolerance and that will open applications in satellites and similar designs,” Lidow continued.

• Ease of use
In Lidow’s opinion, GaN is ‘pretty easy to use because it’s high frequency’. “Traditional power designers don’t know what to do with devices that run at MHz rates; there’s a skill set missing. But with the introduction by companies such as TI of driver ics, that problem is largely gone. And the more people use GaN chips, the better it will get.”

• Cost effectiveness
Because GaN is a relatively new technology, it is still relatively expensive. “But where efficiency is involved, it’s valid enough that people can’t afford not to use it,” Lidow claimed. “There are a number of applications where GaN brings a substantial improvement in efficiency, including power over Ethernet and server power supplies.”

• Reliability
Because GaN is still in its early days, reliability remains an issue. “We’re tracking cumulative hours,” Lidow explained, “and working out reliability figures from that. But we’ve generated five reliability reports which point to GaN having a reliability of millions of hours.”

Manufacturing challenges

Because GaN is still a developing technology, it’s in the early stages of commercialisation. “We do have cost challenges,” Lidow admitted, “but we are focused on developing the technology. We’re looking at how to grow less expensive epitaxial GaN and working with equipment manufacturers to come up with next generation reactors. Once we get that done, GaN will be cheaper than today’s mosfets.” Nevertheless, EPC’s GaN devices have been designed for manufacture on standard silicon foundry processes.

EPC’s technology is based on epitaxial GaN, grown on a standard silicon substrate. “It’s not complicated,” he continued, “but we’re making it on machines designed to make leds. So we do need next generation machines.”

He said the manufacturing process is simpler than that for silicon; ‘it needs only half the steps’. “A further advantage is that, because GaN is grown on silicon, we can encapsulate it with a layer of glass and that’s a packaged product once it’s separated.”

Lidow sees this as a major advantage. “For power mosfets, the package comprises half of the product cost; and we’ve got rid of the package. With a package, you have to match resistance, thermal issues and so on. That cost and complication is removed and that’s a huge benefit over silicon.”

One early decision which EPC took was to develop enhancement mode, rather than the depletion mode, devices. “There are two benefits,” Lidow claimed. “One is that all power mosfets use enhancement mode, so GaN devices look like them. And, unlike depletion mode, you don’t need to provide a negative voltage in order to hold the power device off.”

EPC is well on the way with its road map. “We’ll be sampling 600V parts early in 2012,” he said, “and this will be followed by our third generation products.”

Lidow is confident of GaN’s potential. Already, market researcher iSuppli predicts the available market will be worth $11billion a year by 2013. “We’re going to see explosive growth in demand,” he concluded, “and applications will be blossoming on GaN.”

By: Graham Pitcher

Thermoelectrics: Roughing it

(Nanowerk News) Thermoelectric materials convert a temperature gradient into a voltage. Most thermoelectrics, however, are too inefficient for widespread practical application. Still, the possibility that these materials could usefully harness heat waste, such as that generated by combustion engines, makes improving their efficiency an important pursuit in materials science. A team of scientists led by Wooyoung Lee at Yonsei University in Korea has now shown that interface roughening may be an effective way to enhance the thermoelectric properties of core/shell nanowires (“Reduction of Lattice Thermal Conductivity in Single Bi-Te Core/Shell Nanowires with Rough Interface”).

In the ideal thermoelectric, the charge conducts easily from a hot point to a cold one, while heat conduction is low. The ratio between these quantities is contained in the thermoelectric ‘figure of merit’.

Nanowires with a bismuth core encased in a tellurium shell have improved thermoelectric properties when the interface between the core and shell is roughened by impeding the flow of phonons, but not electrons.

As both electrons and vibrational waves in the lattice, known as phonons, contribute to a material’s thermal conductivity, Lee and his colleagues attempted to raise a material’s thermoelectric figure of merit by suppressing the conductivity of phonons without impairing electrical conductivity. This can be achieved by adding defects or nanostructuring a material to make it smaller than the phonon mean-free path — the typical distance a phonon travels before it scatters.

Lee and his team combined both of these tricks to reduce the thermal conductivity of a promising thermoelectric material consisting of a bismuth nanowire core coated with a tellurium shell. The team synthesized the wires by cooling just-prepared bismuth nanowires with liquid nitrogen and then coating them with tellurium using a sputtering technique, giving a core/shell structure with a smooth interface. They also prepared the wires without the cooling step, resulting in a rough interface.

After examining a series of the core/shell nanowires of 160–460 nm in diameter in both the smooth and rough versions, the researchers noticed two trends: the narrowest wires had the lowest thermal conductivity, and wires with rough interfaces had lower thermal conductivity than those with smooth interfaces — in some cases by as much as a factor of five.

According to Lee, roughening of the interface between the bismuth and tellurium reduces the thermal conductivity of phonons more significantly than electron thermal conductivity (see image). “The overall effect is to increase the thermoelectric figure of merit,” says Lee.

Source: Tokyo Institute of Technology 

New ‘3-D’ Transistors Promising Future Chips

Researchers from Purdue and Harvard universities have created a new type of transistor made from a material that could replace silicon and have a 3-D structure instead of conventional flat computer chips.

The approach could enable engineers to build faster, more compact and efficient integrated circuits and lighter laptops that generate less heat than today’s. The transistors contain tiny nanowires made not of silicon, like conventional transistors, but from a material called indium-gallium-arsenide.

The device was created using a so-called “top-down” method, which is akin to industrial processes to precisely etch and position components in transistors. Because the approach is compatible with conventional manufacturing processes, it is promising for adoption by industry, said Peide “Peter” Ye, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue.

A new generation of silicon computer chips, due to debut in 2012, will contain transistors having a vertical structure instead of a conventional flat design. However, because silicon has a limited “electron mobility” — how fast electrons flow – other materials will likely be needed soon to continue advancing transistors with this 3-D approach, Ye said.

Indium-gallium-arsenide is among several promising semiconductors being studied to replace silicon. Such semiconductors are called III-V materials because they combine elements from the third and fifth groups of the periodic table.

“Industry and academia are racing to develop transistors from the III-V materials,” Ye said. “Here, we have made the world’s first 3-D gate-all-around transistor on much higher-mobility material than silicon, the indium-gallium-arsenide.”

Findings will be detailed in a paper to be presented during the International Electron Devices Meeting in Washington, D.C. The work is led by Purdue doctoral student Jiangjiang Gu; Harvard doctoral student Yiqun Liu; Roy Gordon, Harvard’s Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Chemistry; and Ye.

Transistors contain critical components called gates, which enable the devices to switch on and off and to direct the flow of electrical current. In today’s chips, the length of these gates is about 45 nanometers, or billionths of a meter. However, in 2012 industry will introduce silicon-based 3-D transistors having a gate length of 22 nanometers.

“Next year if you buy a computer it will have the 22-nanometer gate length and 3-D silicon transistors,” Ye said.

The 3-D design is critical because the 22-nanometer gate lengths will not work in a flat design.

“Once you shrink gate lengths down to 22 nanometers on silicon you have to do more complicated structure design,” Ye said. “The ideal gate is a necklike, gate-all-around structure so that the gate surrounds the transistor on all sides.”

The nanowires are coated with a “dielectric,” which acts as a gate. Engineers are working to develop transistors that use even smaller gate lengths, 14 nanometers, by 2015.

However, further size reductions beyond 14 nanometers and additional performance improvements are likely not possible using silicon, meaning new designs and materials will be needed to continue progress, Ye said.

“Nanowires made of III-V alloys will get us to the 10 nanometer range,” he said.

The new findings confirmed that the device made using a III-V material has the potential to conduct electrons five times faster than silicon.

Creating smaller transistors also will require finding a new type of insulating layer essential for the devices to switch off. As gate lengths shrink smaller than 14 nanometers, the silicon dioxide insulator used in conventional transistors fails to perform properly and is said to “leak” electrical charge.

One potential solution to this leaking problem is to replace silicon dioxide with materials that have a higher insulating value, or “dielectric constant,” such as hafnium dioxide or aluminum oxide.

In the new work, the researchers applied a dielectric coating made of aluminum oxide using a method called atomic layer deposition. Because atomic layer deposition is commonly used in industry, the new design may represent a practical solution to the coming limits of conventional silicon transistors.

Using atomic layer deposition might enable engineers to design transistors having thinner oxide and metal layers for the gates, possibly consuming far less electricity than silicon devices.

“A thinner dielectric layer means speed goes up and voltage requirements go down,” Ye said.

The work is funded by the National Science Foundation and the Semiconductor Research Corp. and is based at the Birck Nanotechnology Center in Purdue’s Discovery Park. The latest research is similar to, but fundamentally different from, research reported by Ye’s group in 2009. That work involved a design called a finFET, for fin field-effect transistor, which uses a finlike structure instead of the conventional flat design. The new design uses nanowires instead of the fin design.

By: Emil Venere

Lithium, Cobalt Among Minerals Facing Chronic Shortage, PwC Says

Cobalt a Rare Industrial Metal

Dec. 7 (Bloomberg) — Global manufacturers may face a critical shortage of 14 raw materials over the next five years affecting industries including chemicals, aviation and renewable energy, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.

Seven manufacturing industries may be seriously affected by a critical shortage of raw materials “which could disrupt entire supply chains and economies,” PwC said in a report today based on a survey of senior executives from 69 manufacturers.

“Many businesses now recognize that we are living beyond the planet’s means,” Malcolm Preston, PwC’s global sustainability leader, said in the report. “New business models will be fundamental to the ability to respond appropriately to the risks and opportunities posed by the scarcity of minerals and metals.”

Beryllium, used as a lightweight component in military equipment, cobalt, used in industrial manufacturing and lithium, used in wind turbines and hybrid cars, were among minerals identified in the report as facing critical shortages. Tantalum and flurospar will also face a shortfall, it said.

By: Jesse Riseborough