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We begin 2012 similar to how we started 2011 when it comes to rare earth, rare technical metals and rare industrial metals. China has over 90% of production and refining. The US and EU governments are scrambling to legislate, source, produce, open and reopen mines. The West has decided to continue down the road of the idea that the markets will take care of the supply and price of these metals. What is alarming is how easily the West was lulled to sleep by China´s ability to supply the world its metals cheaply and efficiently. The West concentrated on making money trading stocks and futures that dealt with these commodities. China concentrated on building the most extensive mining industry in the history of man. Here in 2012 the Department of Energy in the USA has approved a spending bill that includes $20 Million to focus on the supply issues of these metals.
The metals I am speaking about are so vital to our everyday lives. These metals are found in your mobile phones, computers, LCD and LED TV´s, hybrid cars, solar power, wind power, nuclear power, efficient lighting and medical technologies. Here is a list of metals that have been deemed critical.
- Indium RIM (Solar, Mobile Phones, LCD)
- Tellurium RIM (Solar, Computers, Semi-conductors)
- Gallium RIM (Solar, Mobile Phones, LED´s, Fuel Cells)
- Hafnium RIM (Processors, Nuclear, Lighting, Plasma Cutting Tools)
- Tantalum RIM (Capacitors, Medical Implants, Mobile Phones, Nuclear)
- Tungsten RIM (Nuclear, Armaments, Aviation)
- Yttrium REE (Lighting, Medical Technology, Magnets in Hybrids)
- Neodymium REE (Magnets in Wind power, Super Magnets, Hybrid Vehicles)
- Dysprosium REE (Computers, Nuclear, Hybrid Vehicles)
- Europium REE (Lighting, LED´s, Lasers
- Lanthanum REE (Hybrid Vehicles, Magnets, Optics)
- Cerium REE (LED´s, Catalytic Converters, Magnets)
RIM=Rare Industrial Metal REE=Rare Earth Element
The supplies of these metals could hold back the production of green technologies. According to the latest report by the Department of Energy, ¨Supply challenges for five rare earth metals may affect clean energy technology deployment in the years ahead¨. If Green technology is to become main stream, the costs of these technologies have to reach cost parity with traditional energy sources. As long as there are serious supply issues with these metals the costs can´t reach these levels. The other option is finding alternatives like Graphene and Nanotechnologies.
The US and EU need supply chains of the metals that include both mining and refining of these metals. Relying on sovereign states for critical metals such as these, leave a nation vulnerable to outside influence in both politics and economics. Environmentalists have succeeded in influencing politicians to close mines throughout the West. Politicians have legislated the mining industry into the position it is in today. The Western nations must start now to build its supply chain or continue to be at the mercy of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) nations for its metal needs.
The best the West can do now is provide, enough metals to meet its own demands. China has reached a point where it can now demand that certain industries produce their products there. If a company decides to try to produce the product in another country China will make producing that item cost prohibitive outside of China by raising the prices of the metals.
The demand for the products these metals are used to produce, are showing few signs of slowing down even in a so-called recession. Governments are subsidizing Green technology, people are buying mobile phones across the planet and everybody wants a nice flat screen TV. Will 2012 pass without countries truly taking this opportunity to fix the problem or will they step up and make the hard decisions which can put the countries back in control over their own destiny?
Professor George Hadjipanayis. Source: University of Delaware.
Researchers at the University of Delaware and at General Electric Global Research are independently developing new magnets using nanoparticles to preserve the increasingly small supply of rare earth metals typically used in the strongest magnets made today. These new magnets are also stronger and lighter than traditional magnets and should increase efficiency as well as conserve the dwindling supply of neodymium, dysprosium, and terbium.
Demand for these metals is quickly outstripping their availability. This may be exacerbated by stricter export policies from China where most of the current supply is found. The Department of Energy has funded two independent projects looking to circumvent this scarcity by using nanoparticles to create magnets instead of large quantities of metals. Both projects are taking the same general approach to the problem - creating magnets from nanoparticles combining very small amounts of these rare metals with particles of iron and other more common metals. The small scale structure of these compounds greatly increases the magnetism found in the metal alone, requiring much less metal to achieve the same - or better - results found in normal magnets.
GE is being fairly tight lipped about the specific composites in its magnets and about their manufacturing process. They claim to have successfully produced thin films of magnets using their process and are working on making magnets large enough for practical use. The other research group - headed by the Chairman of the Physics Department George Hadjipanayis at the University of Delaware - is more open about its methods but is also having difficulty scaling their process up sufficiently for practical use.
The team at Delaware is using a combination of iron and cobalt with the standard rare metals in particles of around 20-30 nanometers to create its nanomagnetic material. They are trying to increase the magnetism of these particles and discover ways to assemble them into functional two and three dimensional arrays that act like traditional magnets. Their current research has general applications, but specific projects are focused on creating viable storage media and magnets for various types of medical research and technology.
TFOT has previously reported on other research into magnets and using magnets including superconductivity research at the Los Alamos National Laboratory Magnet Lab and magnetic spaceshields that could protect spaceships from high speed particles and solar flares. TFOT has also reported on other nanoparticle research including a nanoparticle vaccine for Type 1 diabetes, silver nanoparticles for creating small electronics, and a way to encapsulate cancer treatments in nanoparticles.
Read more about the University of Delaware research into magnetic nanoparticles on the group website. Read more about the initial DOE grant funding this research in this University of Delaware
July 26, 2011 - Janice Karin