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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Silver Price Could Double by Year’s End

Were you cursing at your computer screen when silver nearly tripled during the short 9 months from September 2010 to May 2011? Silver at $20 seemed like an insurmountable threshold for quite some time. This caused many silver investors to give up just prior to the ascent, completely missing the ride towards $50. I believe silver is about to offer a similar ride. While it is unlikely to match the 180% advance mentioned above, look for silver to make new highs in the coming months, with the potential to double to $65 by year end.

Following the record gains in silver during late 2010 and early 2011, the metal crashed towards $25 and has since rebounded to around $33. Investor sentiment has crashed along with it. The threat of Euro nations defaulting, banks announcing they are, well, bankrupt, and a series of other factors have scared away many of the Johnny-come-lately silver bulls.

I think too many investors are underestimating the power of the central banks. While I agree they are running out of options, it seems that their ability to kick the can down the road has yet to expire. Given that the United States is heading into election season and President Obama is in full campaign mode, I expect the administration to pull out all stops in order to continue the illusion of economic prosperity a while longer. Every economic fire of consequence is being extinguished with fresh liquidity, more funny money or new legislation. In case you missed it, QE3 has been in full force for quite some time, albeit executed in a somewhat stealth manner.

The implications for silver (and gold to a lesser degree) are going to be incredibly bullish. Absent a deflationary sovereign default that spirals out of control and takes down major banks with it, stocks will continue to creep higher in volatile trade throughout the year. Once fear begins to subside, look for precious metals to come roaring back to new highs by mid-year. Whenever the next financial crisis finally hits, we are likely to witness a new injection of quantitative easing that is even stronger than what transpired in 2008.

Will a major debt default pull down gold, silver and mining stocks with it? Absolutely.

Will it last? Not likely.

Investors are a predictable bunch. They always overshoot on emotions in one direction or another. A rush for liquidity and the perceived “safety” of government bonds or U.S. dollars will be incredibly short-lived and viewed in retrospect as immensely short-sighted. Everyone that rushed for the door by dumping real assets will soon regret their folly. When the fear subsides and some semblance of rational thought returns, the realization of the worthlessness of government paper will be widespread and cause a mass exodus of fiat money.

So while it is prudent to hold a decent amount of cash in the short term, hoping to buy the irrational dip, the medium to long-term investor might consider buying silver aggressively at this juncture. In my view, commodity prices are either going to continue grinding higher throughout the remainder of the year, or there will be a short and steep dip, following by a resumption to new highs.

Either way, the silver price has a long way to go before reaching previous inflation-adjusted highs. It would need to climb to $150 to reach its 1980 high using officially-suppressed inflation statistics and closer to $300 using honest inflation statistics. Seeing as you can buy silver at around $33 today, the upside potential remains absolutely huge. Let’s take a look at the long-term chart to determine price targets for 2012 and 2013.

Charting back to the start of the silver bull market, we can see that silver remains firmly in its multi-year uptrend. Contrary to negative sentiment expressed by some analysts, there has been no significant chart damage or other action to suggest that the bull market has run its course. Silver recently bounced off the bottom line of its trend channel, which also corresponds roughly with the 100-day moving average. This line has provided support during every one of silver’s corrections over the past decade, with the exception of the 2008 financial crisis. I expect it to continue to provide support during the current correction/consolidation.

While we could see one more quick dip below $30, I think any talk of a decline to $25 or lower is now firmly off the table. Silver is currently facing resistance at the critical level of $35. If it breaks to the upside through this level, I believe silver will quickly climb to challenge the $50 mark once again and reach a high between $55 and $65 by year end. To the downside, I think the lowest silver will close out the year is around $31, in the event that short-term deflationary forces take hold. But as mentioned earlier, I think the central banks stand ready to do whatever is necessary in order to prevent such an outcome.

These projections are relatively conservative and based on the long-term trend trajectory. Any number of events could send silver parabolic in the blink of an eye. The silver market is tiny in relationship to the paper money market and if even a small percentage of those dollars decide to buy silver, demand will overwhelm supply and send prices into triple digits. I ultimately believe silver could reach $500, but the more important consideration is the value/purchasing power increase of silver. One thousand ounces of silver used to be able to buy a median-priced home in the United States and I believe one thousand ounces will once again achieve this same feat in the near future.

Some view silver as an inflation hedge or way to preserve purchasing power. I see it as a way to vastly increase purchasing power over the next several years, with the worse case scenario being wealth preservation. I’ll take that risk/reward scenario any day.

The fundamentals are very strong for silver at this juncture. The Obama administration just put forth a budget that will result in another annual deficit of over $1 Trillion, despite promising to cut the deficit to $650 billion. The ECB is bathing Euro banks in liquidity and the US Fed has literally guaranteed an inflationary environment until late 2014. These policies create ripe conditions for commodities overall and precious metals in particular to make new all-time highs.

With less above-ground investment-grade silver available than gold, the supply/demand situation can not persist much longer at such depressed prices. Physical silver demand is growing and confirming our bullish view, as Silver Eagle sales for January posted the second strongest month ever at 6.1 million ounces!

Lastly, silver is the best form of money to own in the event of a collapse in fiat currencies. It will be difficult to use a gold eagle for small purchases, but silver eagles and junk silver will be ideal to use in purchasing food and other goods when the U.S. dollar is no longer accepted. This makes silver attractive not only for the strong returns and ability to increase an investor’s purchasing power, but also as a valuable insurance policy should the current monetary system break down.

So don’t miss the train again this time around. While silver is currently in consolidation mode, this is not likely to last long. When the silver price finally takes off once again, there will be little notice or opportunity to jump aboard the speeding train. Silver remains severely undervalued in my estimation and I expect the price to skyrocket in the near future as it approaches new highs.

You need only have the courage to take the path less chosen, buy when others aren’t interested and sell when the herd is clamoring to buy silver at any premium. While the next financial crisis may begin with panic selling of precious metals, I believe it will quickly flip to panic buying at very high premiums to spot price. I want to be well-positioned before this occurs and also have some funds on the sidelines to relieve panic sellers of their gold and silver at discount prices. A sensible approach that I advocate is to purchase in tranches, building a position now and adding to it every month or two. This will help to ensure that you don’t go “all in” at a short-term top and have funds available to take advantage of any major dip. Attempting to time the absolute bottom is nearly impossible, so I view this a opportune moments to establish or increase positions in silver.

I am currently adding to my positions, both in physical silver and undervalued silver mining stocks. The equities underperformed significantly last year, but against the backdrop of unlimited central bank easing and liquidity, I think we are likely to see a return to the leverage offered during the early stages of this bull market. Junior mining stocks in particular appear very undervalued at this juncture and could offer staggering gains if my analysis is correct.

*Post courtesy of Jason Hamlin, founder of Gold Stock Bull, a monthly contrarian newsletter that contains in-depth research into the markets with a focus on finding undervalued gold and silver mining companies.


Silver Eagles Soar!

In World War I severe material shortages played havoc with production schedules and caused lengthy delays in implementing programs. This led to development of the Harbord List – a list of 42 materials deemed critical to the military.

After World War II the United States created the National Defense Stockpile (NDS) to acquire and store critical strategic materials for national defense purposes. The Defense Logistics Agency Strategic Materials (DLA Strategic Materials) oversees operations of the NDS and their primary mission is to “protect the nation against a dangerous and costly dependence upon foreign sources of supply for critical materials in times of national emergency.”

The NDS was intended for all essential civilian and military uses in times of emergencies. In 1992, Congress directed that the bulk of these stored commodities be sold. Revenues from the sales went to the Treasury General Fund and a variety of defense programs – the Foreign Military Sales program, military personnel benefits, and the buyback of broadband frequencies for military use

American Silver Eagle

The American Silver Eagle is the official silver bullion coin of the United States. It was first released by the United States Mint on November 24, 1986 and is struck only in the one troy ounce size.

The Bullion American Silver Eagle sales program ultimately came about because the US government wanted, during the 1970s and early 1980s, to sell off what it considered excess silver from the Defense National Stockpile.

“Several administrations had sought unsuccessfully to sell silver from the stockpile, arguing that domestic production of silver far exceeds strategic needs. But mining-state interests had opposed any sale, as had pro-military legislators who wanted assurances that the proceeds would be used to buy materials more urgently needed for the stockpile rather than merely to reduce the federal deficit.” Wall Street Journal

The authorizing legislation for the American Silver Eagle bullion sales program required that the silver used for the coins had to be from the Defense National Stockpile. By 2002 the DNS stockpile was so depleted of silver that if the American Silver Eagle bullion sales program was to continue further legislation was required.

On June 6, 2002, Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada) introduced the Support of American Eagle Silver Bullion Program Act to “authorize the Secretary of the Treasury to purchase silver on the open market when the silver stockpile is depleted.”

2002 – 10,539,026 Bullion American Silver Eagles were sold.

2003 – 8,495,008 Bullion American Silver Eagles were sold, silver averaged $4.88 an ounce for the year.

2004 – 8,882,754 Bullion American Silver Eagles were sold. For 2004 the average cost of an ounce of silver was $6.67.

2005 – 8,891,025 Bullion American Silver Eagles were sold. Silver averaged $7.32 an ounce.

2006 – 10,676,522 Bullion American Silver Eagles were sold. Silver averaged $11.55 an ounce.

2007 – 9,028,036 Bullion American Silver Eagles were sold.

2008 – 20,583,000 Bullion American Silver Eagles were sold. Silver averaged $14.99 an ounce and almost 80% more Bullion American Silver Eagles were sold then in any previous year.

The US Mint suspended sales of the silver bullion coins to its network of authorized purchasers twice during the year.

In March 2008, sales increased nine times over the month before – 200,000 to 1,855,000.

In April 2008, the United States Mint had to start an allocation program, effectively rationing Silver Eagle bullion coins to authorized dealers on a weekly basis due to “unprecedented demand.”

On June 6, 2008, the Mint announced that all incoming silver planchets were being used to produce only bullion issues of the Silver Eagle and not proof or uncirculated collectible issues.

The 2008 Proof Silver Eagle became unavailable for purchase from the United States Mint in August 2008.

2009 – 30,459,000 Bullion American Silver Eagles were sold

On March 5, 2009, the United States Mint announced that the proof and uncirculated versions of the Silver Eagle coin for that year were temporarily suspended due to continuing high demand for the bullion version.

On October 6, 2009, the Mint announced that the collectible versions of the Silver Eagle coin would not be produced for 2009.

The sale of 2009 Silver Eagle bullion coins was suspended from November 24 to December 6 and the allocation program was re-instituted on December 7.

Silver Eagle bullion coins sold out on January 12, 2010.

The average cost of an ounce of silver in 2009 was $14.67


No proof Silver Eagles were released through the first ten months of the year, and there was a complete cancellation of the uncirculated Silver Eagles.

Production of the 2010 Silver Eagle bullion coins began in January instead of December as usual. The coins were distributed to authorized dealers under an allocation program until September 3.

In 2010 the US Mint sold 34,700,000 Bullion American Silver Eagle Coins.


According to the USGS’s most recent Silver Mineral Industry Survey, silver production fell to 37 tonnes in October – compared to 53 tonnes year over year (yoy).

In 2011, the United States produced approximately 1,054 tonnes of silver – down from 2010’s production of 1,154 tonnes and down from 2007’s production of 1,163 tonnes.

The US imported 6,600,000 oz of silver for consumption in 2011 – up from 2007’s imports of 4,830,000 oz.

In 2011 the US Mint sold 39,868,500 Bullion American Silver Eagle Coins.

2011 was the first year in which official coin sales will surpass domestic silver production.

Jeff Clark of Casey Research writes “For the first time in history, sales of silver Eagle and Maple Leaf coins surpassed domestic production in both the US and Canada. Throw in the fact that by most estimates less than 5% of the US population owns any gold or silver and you can see how precarious the situation is. A supply squeeze is not out of the question – rather it is coming to look more and more likely with each passing month.”

The US Mint is required by law to mint the bullion Silver Eagles to meet public demand for precious metal coins as an investment option. The numismatic versions of the coin (proof and uncirculated) were added by the Mint solely for collectors.


United States Mint Authorized Purchasers (AP’s) ordered 3,197,000 Bullion American Silver Eagle Coins on January 3rd, the first day they went on sale. That opening day total catapulted January Bullion Eagle sales higher than half of the monthly totals in 2011.

As of January 25th 2012, 5,547,000 Bullion American Silver Eagle Coins had been sold.

Bullion Silver Eagles are guaranteed for weight and purity by the government of the United States and because of this the US government allows bullion Silver Eagles to be added to Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs).


The twin policies of zero interest rates and the continual creation of money and credit being enacted today, by all governments and central banks, means that the purchase of precious metals is the only way to protect the value of your assets.

“Mark my words, if the interest rates on U.S. government debt truly reflected both the real level of inflation in this country and the rising risk of some form of default, rates would already by sky-high and the U.S. would resemble a massive Greece.” John Embry, Chief Investment Strategist, Sprott Asset Management

Investors are currently risk adverse and mining stocks are not well understood by the general investing public, but at least one thing is going to become very apparent to most – the best way to hedge yourself against inflation could be owning silver.

Junior resource companies offer the greatest leverage to increasing demand and rising prices for silver. Junior resource companies are soon going to have their turn under the investment spotlight and should be on every investors radar screen. Are they on yours?

If not, maybe they should be.

*Post courtesy of Richard Mills at where he covers the junior resource sector.

The Battle of the LED Substrates Heats Up


Soraa, Bridgelux, and Osram battle for the LED substrate crown.

A four-way LED substrate battle is shaping up among sapphire, silicon carbide, silicon, and gallium nitride materials.

The prize is much cheaper LED chips and lighting products.

Soraa’s recent unstealthing added gallium nitride (GaN) to the active contender list with its GaN-on-GaN device. On the silicon (Si) front, Osram Opto CTO Ulrich Steegmueller presented the company’s Si research at a recent lighting event. Bridgelux, also researching silicon, raised $25 million in funding from China.

There are some dark horses, including glass, germanium, and aluminum nitride (AlN).

Nitride Solutions of Wichita Kansas closed an oversubscribed $2.5 million round A this month for AlN substrates, with an ultraviolet market emphasis.

High brightness LEDs (other than red) are derivatives of gallium nitride. As with semiconductors, generally, you want to build on a stable substrate with an accurate crystal lattice, but gallium nitride is unstable and defect-ridden. The stable alternatives have a lattice spacing mismatch with the GaN and the result is shattered wafers and efficiency loss. A variety of coping techniques have evolved, such as buffer layers. (For a readable backgrounder on the topic, see here.)

The status quo is sapphire. But the cost of making LEDs out of synthetic gemstones has drawn in the other contenders.

  • Sapphire: the defender. Users are almost everyone but Cree; Lattice mismatch: 13 percent; Advantage: Stable, mismatch well researched; Disadvantage: Too expensive for what you get; Bottom Line: Will never meet DOE’s 20X cost reduction goal.
  • Silicon Carbide: the Macintosh of substrates. Users are mainly Cree; Lattice mismatch: 3.5 percent; Advantage: Very stable. Low mismatch aided by cancelling thermal mismatch, highest thermal conductivity; Disadvantage: Priciest, almost proprietary; you may have to buy it from your toughest competitor; Bottom Line: Relatively less costly and difficult if you’re Cree, costlier and harder if you’re anyone else. Cree was a silicon carbide company before becoming an LED company.
  • Silicon: Users — Research maturing in Osram Opto, Bridgelux, China; Lattice mismatch:17 percent (plus a 56 percent additive thermal mismatch); Advantages: 80 percent substrate cost reduction potential, ubiquitous, big wafers; Disadvantages: Lattice and thermal expansion mismatches from hell.
  • Gallium Nitride: Users: Soraa; Lattice mismatch: 0 percent; Advantage: Lattice and thermal match from heaven, homogeneous material allows higher drive level by tuning the GaN for reduced droop; Disadvantage: Unstable, defect-ridden; Bottom line: Analogous to Cree and silicon carbide, relatively less costly and less difficult if you’re Shuji Nakamura, Steve DenBaars, and Jim Speck, much worse if you’re anybody else.

Soraa is performing a bit of a head fake by not selling LEDs, shipping only a finished MR16 halogen reflector where their compact die is able to win with superior beam concentration. However, that is essentially how all LEDs compete with high pressure sodium lamps to this day.

While we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves, new substrates could turn some non-adapting companies into stranded whales. Cree may have a particular hazard here, with a unique, almost emotional, commitment to silicon carbide. On the principle that any new substrate will only be adopted if it has a cost or performance advantage, the battle of the substrates will, in the end, only accelerate and enhance the inevitable transition to solid-state lighting.


China to develop rare-earth based new materials

Rare Earth Elements

BEIJING – China will develop rare-earth-based new materials during the 2011-2015 period, in an effort to boost manufacturing capacity, according to a five-year plan for the new materials industry released on Wednesday.

The government will “make full use of its rare earth resources to expand the industrial scale of new materials made with rare earth,” said the publication by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

The government will focus on developing rare earth functional materials, increasing efforts to improve performances of new materials made with rare earth, promote its application in high-end manufacturing, and increase product added-value, the plan said.

Rare earth metals are a group of 17 elements that are widely used in high-tech products, including flat-screen televisions, lasers and hybrid cars.

The plan aims to promote the application rate of production technologies for rare earth functional materials to 70 percent in the country’s high-tech industries by 2015, it said.

It also set goals to increase the output capacity for rare earth permanent magnet materials by 20,000 tonnes a year and that of rare earth hydrogen-containing alloy powder by 15,000 tonnes a year.

Rare earth permanent magnet materials, which have rare earth elements in their composition, are widely used in electrical motors, medical treatment and spaceflight, while hydrogen-containing alloy powder is used in high-performance batteries.

The plan also sets higher output goals for a range of other new materials that contain rare earth metals.

Production bases for rare earth functional materials will be mainly built in Beijing, Baotou city in Inner Mongolia autonomous region, Ganzhou city in Jiangxi province, Liangshan and Leshan in Sichuan province, Longyan in Fujian province and Ningbo in Zhejiang province, the plan said.

While pledging policy supports to accomplish the goals, the plan also stresses efforts to protect energy resources and promote integrated utilization by developing reproducible resource technologies.

China’s rare earth sales account for nearly 90 percent of the global total, but its reserves only account for one-third of the world’s total. Decades of excessive exploitation has resulted in serious environmental damage.

To promote healthy development of the industry, China has suspended the issuance of new licenses for prospecting and mining and adopted production caps, export quotas and stringent environmental standards, while launching crackdowns on illegal mining activities.

China sets the 2012 rare earth export quota at basically the same level of 2011. Its rare earth exports totaled 14,750 tonnes during the first 11 months of 2011, accounting for only 49 percent of the total quota.

The plan, which maps out development of the nation’s new material industry, prioritizes the development of six types of advanced materials, including special metal functional materials, high-end metal structural materials, advanced macromolecular materials, new inorganic non-metal materials, high performance composite materials and frontier new materials.

The plan targets a 2-trillion-yuan output in the country’s new material industry by 2015. The industry’s output value stood at 650 billion yuan in 2010, growing by an annual rate of 20 percent since 2005.


Rare Element on Earth Discovered in Ancient Starlight

A photo of an ultra pure tellurium crystal. Astronomers have discovered the material in deep space by analyzing light from three ancient stars. CREDIT: MIT

Light from three ancient stars at the edge of the Milky Way indicates that the stars contain tellurium, a brittle, superconducting element that is rare on Earth.

The cosmic discovery, which also spotted traces of other heavy elements, supports the theory that these elements were synthesized in the rapidly collapsing cores of rare supernovas (stellar explosions).

“You can make iron and nickel in any ordinary supernova, anywhere in the universe,” said Anna Frebel, an astrophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the research team. “But these heavy elements seem to only be made in specialized supernovas.”

According to the theory, heavy atoms form during rapid nuclear fusion at the heart of some supernovas. Called r-process, it sets in when a supernova core collapses, bombarding atomic nuclei with a fierce onslaught of neutrons. The result is the production of atoms heavier than iron, which then get hurled into space, enriching the cloud of gas and dust that eventually collapses to form another star.

And if the theory is right, some of those atoms ought to end up in stars like those analyzed by Frebel and the rest of her team. [Supernova Photos from Star Explosions]

To analyze the chemical composition of the three stars at the Milky Way’s edge, the researchers studied data gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope’s spectrograph, an instrument that splits incoming starlight into a spectrum of wavelengths. If an element is present in a star, the atoms of that element absorb starlight at specific wavelengths, leaving telltale dips in signal in the spectrograph’s data.

The scientists detected dips in the ultraviolet region of the spectrum at a wavelength that matched tellurium’s light absorption, signifying the presence of the rare element in the 12-billion-year-old stars. Furthermore, the abundance of tellurium relative to that of other heavy elements, such as barium and strontium, was the same in all three stars. According to Frebel, the matching ratios support the theory that a rare type of supernova may have created the elements in the bottom half of the periodic table, including tellurium.

The finding helps flesh out one chapter in the cosmic history of the elements, an ongoing effort of astronomers and nuclear physicists to understand the formation of the 94 naturally occurring types of matter.

According to Jennifer Johnson, an associate professor of astronomy at Ohio State University who was not involved in the new research, tellurium has been a “tough” element to detect because it absorbs light in the ultraviolet spectrum. UV signals tend to be flooded by sunlight and are impossible for ground-based telescopes to spot.

“If you look at the periodic table, tellurium is right in the middle of these elements that are hard for us to measure,” Johnson said in a statement. “If we need to understand how [the r-process] works in the universe, we really have to measure this part of the periodic table. It’s really cool that they got this element in this sea of unknown-ness.”

Frebel and her colleagues are attempting to fill in other spots in the periodic table, too, by looking for signs of other heavy elements in starlight. “There are still quite a few holes,” she said. “Every now and then, we can add an element, and it adds another data point that makes our work easier.”

The researchers have published their findings online in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

This story was provided by, a sister site to LiveScience

China Could Soon Overtake India As The Biggest Gold Market In The World

HONG KONG (AP) — China is poised to overtake India to become the world’s biggest gold market this year as rising incomes fuel demand for the precious metal and a weak rupee diminishes Indian purchases, an industry group said Thursday.

The amount of gold bought in China rose 20 percent in 2011 over the year before to 770 metric tons, the World Gold Council said in its annual report. That put China behind only first-place India, where 933 metric tons were bought.

Worldwide, the amount of gold purchased rose 0.4 percent to 4,0671 metric tons worth $205.5 billion.

The council said it’s “likely that China will emerge” as the world’s largest gold market for the first time in 2012.

Rising incomes in China, which is the world’s No. 2 economy, have resulted in a surge in demand for gold jewelry and other luxury goods. China became the world’s largest market for gold jewelry in the second half of 2011 as demand rose in every quarter, the report said.

Gold bars, coins and other gold-backed products are also popular because of a lack of other investment options in China.

The long-term rise in the price of gold has also made it a popular hedge against inflation — gold hit a record nominal high of $1,891.90 an ounce in August, though prices have fallen since then. Gold futures for April delivery ended trading in New York on Wednesday at $1,728.10 an ounce.

Central banks, many in developing economies, also boosted gold sales as they sought to diversify their growing piles of foreign currency reserves. They bought 439.7 metric tons of gold last year, up from 77 metric tons the year before and the highest amount since 1964, the report said.

The poor performance of China’s stock and property markets — the other two main choices for Chinese with money to invest — is boosting the popularity of gold as an investment, said Albert Cheng, a managing director at the London-based World Gold Council.

The Shanghai Composite Index is down 20 percent over the past year while house prices are starting to fall after authorities put in place curbs to cool an overheated market.

Strong Chinese demand for gold also helped sales leap 33.5 percent last year in Hong Kong, a popular destination for wealthy mainland shoppers because of lower taxes in the semiautonomous Chinese territory.

Demand for gold jewelry in India, meanwhile, fell in the second half of 2011 because of the weakening rupee, which made gold more expensive.

Indians also grappled with high inflation last year that ate away their purchasing power, so they bought smaller amounts of gold, Cheng said.


Lemnis unwraps LED bulb under $5

The no-frills Pharox 200 Blu from Lemnis Lighting, priced at $4.95, is designed to tempt consumers to try out LED lighting. (Credit: Lemnis Lighting)

Lemnis Lighting is taking a foot-in-the-door approach to LED lightbulbs.

The startup company today announced a new line of bulbs, priced at $4.95 and $6.95, respectively, aimed at getting consumers to try out LEDs for general lighting. The bulbs, though, have some limitations.

The Pharox Blu line comes in 200-lumen and 350-lumen versions, both of which give off less light a 40-watt incandescent bulb’s 450 lumens. That means that the bulbs, which consume less than 5 watts and 8 watts, respectively, won’t give off enough light for many uses, such as lighting a whole room.

The Blu line also has a one-year warranty, versus a three-year warranty for existing Pharox line. They don’t work with a dimmer, a move to save money on manufacturing.

Lemnis is deliberately taking a no-frills approach to get consumers familiar with LED lighting, said Lemnis Lighting co-founder Warner Philips. “Customers want higher-lumen products, but they also want a model that gets them in the game and starts them testing LEDs,” he said.

In the past two years, large lighting companies have introduced LED bulbs able to give off as much light as a 60-watt or 75-watt incandescent priced around $35 or $40. They use about 80 percent less power than incandescent bulbs and are designed to last 15 to 25 years, depending on usage.

Based on online reviews, consumers who have bought LED bulbs are generally happy with the performance of the products. And costs have fallen significantly over the past several months, aided in some places by state or utility rebates.

But most consumers are not willing to do the math on how quickly LEDs pay for themselves in energy savings, Philips said. That’s causing concern in the lighting industry over how strong consumer demand is for general-lighting LEDs.

Even though they give off relatively little light, Philips suggested that the new Blu bulbs can be used for downward directional lighting in offices or in recessed cans in a kitchen. Both will be sold only through the company’s Web site, with sales yielding a low-margin profit, Philips said.

Lemnis is working on brighter LED bulbs too. In the second quarter, it plans to introduce three higher-priced models with a lighting range between 400 lumens and 800 lumens, or roughly from that of a 40-watt to a 60-watt incandescent. Prices for those will start around $10, be dimmable, and have a longer, three-year warranty, Philips said.

By:  Martin LaMonica

Obama’s Budget: Dollars for Manufacturing Education, Rare Earths Research

Continuing with our look at President Obama’s budget proposal, a few Mineweb articles this week point out a few important line items regarding mining. But first, a look at something MetalMiner has spent some time reporting on: educating — and hiring — the next generation of American manufacturing workers.

Education in Trades

Obama is evidently continuing his push to get young workers interested in making the US competitive in terms of manufacturing, as he had been with his Skills for America’s Future initiative.

“As part of his short-term stimulus efforts, Obama today announced an $8 billion Community College to Career Fund proposal that would link businesses and community colleges to train as many as 2 million workers for jobs in high-growth, high demand industries,” Bloomberg reported yesterday. This is on top of the $2 billion in competitive funds Obama pledged in 2010 to community colleges over four years, according to a November 2010 White House press release.

The departments of Education and Labor would tag-team this effort, the canopy of which includes health care, advanced manufacturing, transportation, clean energy and information technology, according to an official statement as reported by Bloomberg.

The question becomes, with more than $10 billion sunken into this endeavor, what will the ROI be? And at what rates are companies hiring these types of grads for worthwhile positions?

There are signs that, to some degree, the plan is working. One good example is in San Diego, where Solar Turbines accepts (and has been for 30 years) apprentices who work at the company while getting certification at San Diego City College, according to a KPBS article. Also, Southwestern Community College partners with Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility to train shipyard workers.

However, state budget cuts may prove a roadblock to Obama’s hopes down the line: California cut funding for apprenticeship programs at community colleges two years ago by 51 percent, according to KPBS.

Mining Safety, Mining Royalties and Rare Earths Research

Back to how the budget proposes to affect domestic metals and mining directly. A Mineweb article claims, “approvals of mine ventilation and roof plans face more delays” in the proposed 2013 Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) budget, which is proposed to be cut by $1 million from last year.

Granted, most of this proposal deals with coal mines and coal-mine safety, but at least some jobs in the mining sector will be retained: the article states that the “budget maintains the 597 fulltime positions currently in the metal and nonmetal mine safety and health division,” and “requests an increase of $1,834,000 to fully fund enforcement staff positions.”

A separate Mineweb article details Obama’s “calls for a 5% gross mining royalty on federal lands, and a hardrock abandoned mined land fee on all private and public lands.” Obama proposed the same last year, only to be shot down by Congress. The administration says the royalties will yield $74.5 million in revenue over the next decade, and “would be instituted under a leasing program under the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 for certain hardrock minerals, such as silver, gold and copper.”

Lastly, the proposed budget for the United States Geological Survey (USGS) has been upped $34.5 million from last year, including an increase of $1 million to support research on rare earth elements.

By: Taras Berezowsky

From prediction to reality – a new class of bulk insulator but surface conductor material

As a result of a joint intensive work of several groups from five different countries, including Basque Country, a new wide class of topological insulators —materials that are insulators in the bulk but conductors at the surface— with technologically very promising properties has been discovered.

Topological insulators, first observed in 2007, are materials that, while being an insulator inside or in the bulk, behave as metals at the surface. Their unique properties can be used for new applications in spintronics and quantum computation as well. Physicists from Donostia International Physics Center (DIPC) and Centro de Física de Materiales (CFM) – joint center CSIC-UPV/EHU – have participated in this research project. The results have been just published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications.

The surface metallic character of these only-bulk-insulators is due to a special electronic state confined at the surface. However, to take advantage of this singular phenomenon, a tuning of this conducting state is often required. The international research team has demonstrated that most of the ordered ternary compounds (Germanium, Tin, Lead, Bismuth, Antimony, Tellurium and Selenium complexes) are actual three dimensional topological insulators showing properties distinct from those found in other binary compounds. In particular, their metallic state is buried 1-2 nm in depth, making it more stable and more protected against any surface modification, while its spin characteristics allow magnetic modifications of the material.

The existence of these exotic topological insulators was first theoretically predicted by scientists from Tomsk (Russia), Halle (Germany) and Donostia. Following this prediction, chemists from Baku (Azerbajan) grew a single crystal sample of one of those compounds. The sample was then studied by experimentalists in Zurich (Switzerland) and Hamburg (Germany), confirming all theoretical predictions.

The finding provides a promising pathway to tune both electronic and spin (that is, magnetic) properties by using different compounds and confirms the possibility to grow topological insulators with deep-laying, self-protecting and, thus, technologically relevant conducting states.


Dodd-Frank, Australian Cuts Threaten Tantalum

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Markets for tantalum metals used primarily in electronics could face short supplies by as early as 2014 in part because of reduced Australian primary production and impending restrictions from the US Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law aimed at curbing trade of illegal and artisanal produced minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo that are the source of the metal.

“Consequently the establishment of new tantalum sources outside the DRC we believe is imperative,” Lara Smith, managing director of Johannesburg-based Core Consultants told the Investing in Africa Mining Indaba conference here this week.

Smith said the 2008-2009 recession had caused a reduction in demand for electronics which had a knock-on effect on tantalum supplies but that studies done by her firm had concluded that if the market moves beyond a a conservative steady growth of 4% in the coming years a supply shortage could develop within three years. Consequently we believe that prices should ultimately move to reflect this circumstance.

Smith noted that tantalum reserves are dispersed around the globe with only 10% of proven reserved actually found in Africa, and only 2% located in Central Africa. “That being said, it has been estimated that since 2009 over 50% of the world tantalum supply originated from Africa and a significant portion of that is said to come from artisanal mining in the DRC,” she said.

Smith added that is probably more sensible to talk about the most likely resource base, recognizing that artisanal mine and illegal miners typically do not prove up their reserve base. “If you consider the most likely resource base then Africa would account for about 16% of global resources and Central Africa 9%,” she said.

New technologies leading to miniaturization of electric devices – which have become smaller, lighter and with more processing power – have resulted in increased usage of tantalum, Smith said, noting that in particular, tantalum-based capacitors are on the rise in automotive electronics, mobile phones, personal computers and wireless devices. Capacitors now account for 60% of tantalum consumption, compared to only 51% in 2004, she noted.

While tantalum consumption has increased by around 3.5 million tonnes since 2004, growth in tantalum demand has been relatively lackluster over the past 15 years or so when compared to other metals used in electronic sectors. But Smith said here analysis found that demand from the automotive sector could lead to three-fold growth in tantalum consumption from 2007.

On the supply side, production has traditionally been supplemented by secondary sources, including the US Defense Logistics Agency’s (DLA) stockpile sales, recycling, long-term contracts and sourcing from slags resulting from production of other metals. These secondary sources accounted for about 45% of supply in 2007, Smith noted.

But she noted that since 2007 there have been no DLA sales of tantalum. Additionally, recycling is becoming more difficult because of high costs and the miniaturization of electronic parts, which use less tantalum metal . Retrieval of tantalum from tin slag is also declining, she said, noting that another speaker at the conference had shown fore forecasts of tin supply projecting 0.8% of increased supply in 2012 and 0.2% for the next five years.

“Moreover tantalum is traditionally sold under long-term contracts as opposed to the spot market,” Smith said, noting that end-user companies have always engaged in preemptive buying. During the tech boom tantalum inventories were stored up by companies based on their projection of their demand for their products and when the tech bubble burst those stockpiles were prolonged further.

Similarly. in 2008 the economic recession and ensuing slowdown in consumer demand insured that tantalum consumers were long on supply, Smith said. “We conjecture that the reason the prices are not yet perspective of a deficit market is due to these stockpiles, which we estimate will be depleted over the next 12 months or so as consumer demand improves,” Smith said.

In terms of primary sources, in December 2008 Australia’s Talison Minerals Pty. Ltd., which since been renamed Global Advanced Metals, placed its two Australian mines on care and maintenance. The mines, Greenbushes and Wodgina, together annually accounted for 2.4 million pounds tantalum pentoxide or 38% of global tantalum supply.

Operations of the Wodgina mine restarted in January 2011 but the company indicated that they would only produce around 700,000 pounds per year, Smith said. “In reality we understand that they are producing closer to half a million pounds,” she added.

In addition to the global financial crisis, the other reason cited for halting production in Australia, was the influx of low-priced coltan minerals, from which tantalum metal is extract, coming from the DRC’s illegal and artisanal miners, Smith said.

The Dodd-Frank law enacted in July 2010 requires that companies who consume minerals from conflict zones, in particular tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold from the DRC, have to now show provenance of these minerals and demonstrate that they are not conflict or “blood” minerals.

“This could facilitate the issue of lower priced imports of coltan,” Smith said but noted that the implementation of the act has since been delayed a number of times, most recently in December.

Under the act companies are expected to be granted a grace period of 12 months to either demonstrate provenance or find alternative supply sources, Smith said. “This means that full implementation of this legislation will most likely not come into effect before the end of 2013,” she said. “Subsequently cheaper coltan from the DRC and Rwanda may continue to fill the supply gap and stabilize prices.”

Consideration of current and future tantalum project plans were used by Core Consultants in forecasting the outlook for supply demand and future price direction of this strategic metal, she said.


Supply Disruption Threats Looming for Cobalt

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Demand for cobalt used in cellular phones and electric vehicle batteries is expected to remain strong but the sector could be plagued by supply disruptions due to logistics and infrastructure problems at its principal mining source in the Democratic Republic of Congo ((DRC) and a looming threat of export quotas from China where most ores are shipped for refining.

Lara Smith, managing director of Johannesburg-based Core Consultants told the Investing in African Mining Indaba that the sector will see continued strong demand for cobalt driven by penetration rates of cellular phones in developing countries, as well as other portable devices, as well as lithium batteries for electric vehicles and robust demand from the superalloy industries.

Over 50% of world cobalt reserves are in the DR but In 2011, as previous, less than 5% of cobalt was refined in the Central African region, Smith said. “Most of it was going east to China for refinement and, in fact China remains the largest exporter of cobalt to the United States,” she said.

Cobalt has numerous uses, including superalloys and catalysts, but its growth in battery applications has outpaced all other end uses and now accounts for 27% of overall consumption, compared to only 11% in 2002, Smith said.

“If you have a look at mobile phones, with respect to batteries, 3.6 grams of cobalt is used in just about every single cellular phone and since 2005 the number of mobile phone subscribers has increased from 2 billion to 5.8 billion in 2011,” Smith said. “If you consider the average global penetration rate of cellular users was 85% in 2011, then we believe that there are still substantial gains to be had in Africa and Asia, where the penetration rates are much lower. In Africa, the penetration rates are only 42% and in Asia they are still hovering around 75%.”

One year when Smith previously spoke the a Mining Indaba audience, those figures were calculated at 34% for Africa and around 68% for Asia, Smith said. “So you can see the startling growth in only a year in this market,” she said

For laptop and tablet computer growth since 2009 has increased 35% and production is expected to double over the next five years, requiring an estimated 11,000 tonnes of cobalt, Smith said. The most exciting development in the battery market is, however, expect to be in electric vehicles. A good approximation of use, she said, is four kilograms of cobalt for a hybrid electric vehicle and six kilograms for an electric vehicle battery.

“Based on announced plans by leading automotive manufacturers, we believe that you should see about 12 million to 13 million hybrid and electric vehicles on our roads by 2020,” Smith said. “This will necessitate as much as 20,000 to 30,000 tonnes of cobalt.”

Additionally, China is expected to produce an estimated 80 million electric bicycles by 2015 and if existing technologies are adopted for these, this would place further upward pressure on cobalt.

The use of cobalt in superalloys – which are frequently used in jet engine applications – remains a major demand industry for cobalt. She noted that Boeing Co. had recently revealed the largest commercial deal in history worth $19 billion with Southwest Airlines placing an order for 208 single-aisle aircraft. Boeing has also forecast demand for 33,500 new aircraft over the next 20 years, while Airbus has speculated that the US will require almost 6,000 new passenger aircraft by 2030 and Asia will require 8,500 aircraft over the same period, Smith said.

In terms of cobalt supply, there are a number of new projects in the pipeline, but those projects are by and large contained in the DRC, “a region where geopolitics has been and could become again tumultuous,” Smith said. “Moreover, transport logistics in Africa as a whole is in need of a continental overhaul and is extremely problematic.”

This could bring supply disruptions, she said, noting that her firm had last year presented an analysis of the DRC’s logistical challenges to the industry’s Cobalt Institute. One of Smith slides from that analysis, which accompanies this article, calculates that given announced copper, cobalt and zinc projects being developed, all which compete for the same logistical infrastructure, a future mine rate of 550,000 tonnes is expected by 2016.

“And assuming that all projects come to fruition, and no upgrades to the current infrastructure, this would result in over 500 trucks queuing at the border on route from Kolwezi by 2016 and over 700 trucks thereafter,” Smith said.

In addition to the transport constraints, she noted that cobalt consuming industries are placing increased emphasis on diversifying production away from the DRC. Japan and the European Union have adopted strategies aimed at securing strategic metals though partnerships, trade agreements and acquisitions.

The US has also facilitated diversification through creating a national stockpile and financing domestic production projects, she said. “There is the looming threat, that as China accounts for the lion’s share of cobalt refinement and indeed leads the supply of cobalt imports to the United States that China could potentially restrict exports of cobalt, as they have done with numerous other commodities, including rare earths … and tungsten,” Smith said.

Such a move by China could lead to greater price volatility and increased risk of supply disruption, she added.


Gallium Arsenide Solar Panel Breaks Efficiency Record

Solar Panels

Last summer, Alta Devices announced a record in the efficiency of an individual solar cell, at 27.6 percent conversion of the sun’s energy to electricity. The same company has now set an efficiency record for an entire solar panel, at 23.5 percent. The record was independently confirmed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (part of the Department of Energy).

Alta Devices makes solar panels using gallium arsenide cells, a more efficient material than the generally cheaper silicon-based cells. To keep prices down, though, the company uses very small amounts of gallium and arsenic, creating a layer of gallium arsenide only one micron thick. They are still only in a pilot production stage for the new panels, but are apparently starting to plan for full scale, commercial production.

The efficiency records are impressive, but translating some of the best ideas to a growing market is never an easy task. As we’ve seen before, records falling don’t necessarily change the solar market overnight. And yet every incremental improvement is an important step toward bringing solar power into a truly competitive range with fossil fuel electricity.

The president and CEO of Alta Devices, Chirstopher Norris, said in a press release last summer: “We are committed to using new scientific understanding, such as internal light generation and extraction, to push the limits of solar cell and module efficiencies while simultaneously driving production costs down through other important developments. The goal of achieving the $1 per installed watt target set by the Department of Energy has energized our entire company.”

The DOE goal he mentioned is part of the SunShot initiative. The idea is to bring solar down to six cents per kilowatt-hour by the end of the decade, which would put it right in the range of coal and natural gas. Achieving this will require improvements in a range of solar tech, from ideas like these thin gallium arsenide cells to solar thermal technology. But it would have a huge impact: according to the DOE itself, if the SunShot is achieved it “will enable solar-generated power to account for 15–18 percent of America’s electricity generation by 2030.” This will be quite a feat, as we’re still hovering below one percent today.


Will the Federal Reserve Devalue the Dollar?

The news around the world has been rather interesting over the last few weeks.  We have Iran trading Oil for Gold instead of PetroDollars.    The Greek crisis still has not been solved while Italy, Spain and Portugal are struggling to stay solvent.  China has signed fourteen currency swap agreements bypassing the US Dollar.  The Federal Reserve has announced that it will keep interest rates at or near zero until 2014.  The US has just raised its debt limit once again, with little opposition.  We all know that 2012 is an election year in the USA which usually means very little will be done in Washington.

So what will we see this year?  Will we see Deflation or Inflation? Currently I hear news out of the USA and here locally in Panama that items are going up in price. I just spent a week in San Jose, Costa Rica where one liter of Coca Cola was $2.50.  They were just forced here in Panama to raise the minimum wage to $500 just so people could afford to survive.  You can imagine the repercussions, many businesses will have to let employees go in order to keep the doors open.  Here in Panama we use the US Dollar as our currency.  Who is to blame for the inflation we are seeing?  It is not the printing presses fault. It is the powers behind the printing.

Way back on November 21, 2002 there was a Federal Reserve Governor named Ben Bernanke, who gave a speech to the National Economist´s Club.  In this speech he outlined exactly what he would do if he was Chairman of the Federal Reserve in the instance of a financial crisis or Depression.

  1. The Federal Reserve would lower the interest rate to zero
  2. Purchase Securities from Banks (GM, Chrysler)
  3. Increase the Money Supply
  4. Buy Countries Debt QE1, QE2, QE3 and QE Infinity
  5. Devalue the Dollar

I will not go into each of these scenarios individually.  We all know that points one through four are already in play.  The one that has not occurred yet is the devaluation of the Dollar.  Mr. Bernanke calls himself a student of the depression.  He has studied The Federal Reserve actions during that time.  Here is an excerpt from that speech.

Ben Bernanke November 21, 2002

Although a policy of intervening to affect the exchange value of the dollar is nowhere on the horizon today, it´s worth noting that there have been times when exchange rate policy has been an effective weapon against deflation. A striking example from U.S. history is Franklin Roosevelt´s 40 percent devaluation of the dollar against Gold in 1933-34, enforced by a program of Gold purchases and domestic money creation.  The devaluation and the rapid increase in money supply it permitted ended the U.S. deflation remarkably quickly.  Indeed, consumer price inflation in the United States, year on year, went from -10.3 percent in 1932 to -5.1 percent in 1933 to 3.4 percent in 1934. The economy grew strongly, and by the way, 1934 was one of the best years of the century for the stock market.  If nothing else, the episode illustrates that monetary actions can have powerful effects on the economy, even when the nominal interest rate is at or near zero, as was the case at the time of Roosevelt´s devaluation.

Original speech can be viewed here

On April 3rd 1933 President Roosevelt declared the Presidential Order 6102.

All persons are hereby required to deliver on or before May 1, 1933, to a Federal Reserve bank or a branch or agency thereof or to any member bank of the Federal Reserve System all gold coin, gold bullion, and gold certificates now owned by them or coming into their ownership on or before April 28, 1933.

At this time Gold was valued at $20 per ounce.  Shortly after the Gold confiscation was completed the Federal Reserve revalued Gold at $35 per ounce or a 40 percent devaluation of the currency.  Remember that during this time the Dollar was backed by the promise of Gold.

In my mind Mr. Bernanke is telling us what he is going to do next if the economy does not respond to the other four measures that he has implemented.  What would a 40% devaluation of the US Dollar do to your savings if everything is in US Dollars or a currency pegged to the Dollar? The devaluation of the US Dollar would be great for Gold, Silver, Home Values, Debt and the stock market.  What about the people that do not have hard assets?  People who live off Social Security, Government Subsidies, Fixed Incomes and Savings will have a difficult time.  Imagine tomorrow you wake up and your savings has just been devalued 40%.

Growing up I was taught that putting your savings in the bank was important.  Today it seems that the idea is no longer valid.  What Mr. Bernanke has told us is that he will devalue the currency in order for the country to continue to have growth.  What are you doing to protect your family and future?

By: Randy Hilarski – The Rare Metals Guy

Demand for minor metals to rise, but supply disruptions a risk

CAPE TOWN ( – Demand for cobalt, tantalum and rare earth metals – seen as critical minor metals necessary for the continuation of the modern way of life – would continue to increase, but a mining consultancy group said on Monday that there was a risk of supply disruptions.

Speaking at the Investing in Africa Mining Indaba in Cape Town, Core Consultants MD Lara Smith cited the political situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where 50% of the world’s cobalt reserves were found, as a potential risk to supply.

“Moreover, transport logistics in Africa as a whole are in need of a continental overhaul and are extremely problematic and could bring supply disruption,” she said.

Smith also said that China, which refines most of the world’s cobalt, could restrict exports, as the country had already done with other commodities, leading to greater price volatility and increased risk of supply disruptions.

However, she remained bullish about the sector, and said demand for cobalt continued to increase.

Approximately 3.6 g of cobalt is used in almost every single mobile phone battery and the penetration of mobile phones, especially in Africa and Asia is expected to continue to increase driving cobalt demand. With laptop and tablet production expected to double over the next five years, Smith said this would require an estimated 11 000 tons of cobalt.

“Cobalt has numerous uses, including super alloys and catalysts, but its growth in battery application has outpaced all other end-uses and now accounts for over 27% of overall consumption compared to 11% in 2002,” said Smith.

Electric vehicles and electric bicycles are also expected to strongly drive cobalt demand, as approximately 4 kg of cobalt would be required for a hybrid electric vehicle battery and 6 kg for a fully electric vehicle. With between 12- and 13-million hybrid electric vehicles expected to be on the road by 2020, this would necessitate between 20 000 t and 30 000 t of cobalt, said Smith. Increased manufacture of electric bicycles and continued demand for aircraft would add further upward pressure on the metal.

Smith said that tantalum was similar in that Core Consultants expected demand of the metal to increase, as the miniaturisation of electronic devices has resulted in higher use of tantalum. The primary requirement for tantalum was now in capacitors for application in automotive electronics, mobile phones, computers and wireless devices.

“The 2008/9 recession caused a reduction in the demand for electronics which had a knock-on effect on tantalum, however if we assume a conservative steady growth rate of 4% in coming years the demand will be perfectly balanced. Growth above 4% will result in a supply shortage as early as 2014. Consequently we believe that prices should ultimately move to reflect this deficit,” said Smith.

With China having reduced their export quota of rare earth metals by 40% in 2010 there is continued concern for the supply of these metals. Smith noted particularly that deficits of selected rare earth metals could affect a number of industries including those producing solar panels, fluorescent bulbs, wind turbines and electric car batteries.

“Considering all the rare earth (metals) then we project a surplus market by 2014, however if we consider only . . . critical rare earths then even on those optimistic projections it leads us to the conclusion that the market will be in deficit by some 20 000 t as early as 2015.”

By: Jean McKenzie

Researchers develop novel form of hafnium oxide

LONDON – Researchers at the University of Cambridge have developed a novel form of hafnium oxide, a compound used at the leading-edge of integrated circuit production and being investigated for use in novel non-volatile memory prototypes.

The university is now looking for partners to help it make money from licensing companies to use the material.

A research team working under Andrew Flewitt in the Department of Engineering at the university has developed a novel form of hafnium oxide (HfO2) with a dielectric constant higher than 30 compared with the conventional value of 20 to 25 for amorphous and crystalline forms of the compound. The novel form of the material is expected to find use in plastic electronics, high-volume semiconductor manufacturing, optical coatings and for the creation of more efficient solar cells.

Hafnium oxide is best known for its use in high-K metal gate (HKMG) stacks within the transistors of nanoelectronic manufacturing processes. The increased dielectric constant should enable further device miniaturization as well as opening up possibilities for next generation electronic and optoelectronic devices, the research group said.

Andrew Flewitt with higher-k hafnium oxide film

The key to progress made by Flewitt and his team is the adoption of a refinement of conventional sputtering called as HiTUS (High Target Utilization Sputtering). The material is produced using a room-temperature, high-deposition rate process, making it suitable for plastic electronics and high-volume semiconductor manufacturing.

Metal oxides are usually produced on substrates by sputtering, a process by which some of the atoms of an electrode are ejected as a result of bombardment by heavy positive ions. However, it is difficult to control precisely the energy of the deposition process, and hence the material properties such as defect density.

The use of HiTUS has allowed the creation of alternative amorphous form of hafnium oxide, according to the research team, with a higher dielectric constant than the previously known form.

Hafnium oxide forms in a number of different crystalline and polycrystalline structures: monoclinic, cubic and orthorhombic. However, for electronics work amorphous hafnium oxide is desirable as polycrystalline grain boundaries act as conduction paths through the material and reduce the resistivity. Until now amorphous hafnium oxide has had dielectric constant of around 20.

“Most people thought that all amorphous hafnium oxide had to exist in the monoclinic-like phase,” said Flewitt, in a statement. “What we’ve shown is that it can exist and does exist in a cubic-like phase. This is similar to amorphous carbon, where you can get diamond-like properties out of amorphous carbon material.”

Amorphous dielectrics are more homogenous than other forms, allowing improved uniformity from one device to another, and the absence of grain boundaries results in higher effective resistivity, as well as less optical scatter.

Cambridge Enterprise, the University’s commercialization group, said it is seeking partners for collaborative development and licensing of the material.

By: Peter Clarke