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Molycorp has formed a joint venture with Daido Steel and Mitsubishi to manufacture next generation NdFeB permanent rare earth magnets.
RENO, NV -
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
Wind turbine manufacturers are scrambling to find alternatives to a key element used in direct-drive permanent magnet generators (PMGs), thanks to skyrocketing prices and diminishing supplies of crucial rare earths.
China currently provides 94% of the world’s rare earths, including neodymium and dysprosium, which are used in the magnets for direct-drive wind turbine motors. However, the Chinese government has put new restrictions on rare-earth mining that have resulted in lower supply levels, according to a report from research firm Roskill Information Services (RIS).
For instance, this year, the Chinese government issued new regulations requiring all companies that mine rare earths to show they have mandatory production plans, appropriate planning permission, environmental certification and safety licenses.
But it was last year’s tightening of China’s export quota that really impacted the rare-earth market. Between May 2010 and August 2011, Chinese internal prices for neodymium increased eightfold – a reflection of the shortage of rare earths for magnets within China, RIS notes.
China has also ramped up its export taxes on rare earths, causing a shortage in the rest of the world.
As a result, only 25% of the world’s rare-earth supply will come from China by 2015, as demand for the neodymium and dysprosium necessary for the manufacture of magnets for wind turbines will climb at a pace of 7% to 9% per year through 2015, according to RIS’ research.
This growth in demand could result in a supply deficit within that time frame, causing wind turbine manufacturers to rush to find alternatives to PMGs.
Searching for other options
Some companies that rely on PMGs for their wind turbines have already taken steps to avoid the problem.
In September, PMG manufacturer Boulder Wind Power engaged Molycorp – which claims to be the only U.S. supplier of rare earths, and the largest provider outside of China – to be its preferred supplier of rare earths and/or alloys for wind turbine generators.
In addition to avoiding the trade conflicts and price volatility associated with China by using a U.S.-based supplier, the company also uses permanent magnets that do not require dysprosium, a very scarce rare earth.
“By effectively solving the dysprosium supply problem for the wind turbine industry, this technology removes a major hurdle to the expansion of permanent magnet generator wind turbines across global markets,” says Mark A. Smith, Molycorp’s president and CEO.
Direct-drive wind turbine manufacturer Goldwind has taken a similar approach.
“As a result of early price increases, Goldwind began developing efficiencies and alternatives that reduce the amount of rare-earth materials required to manufacture our magnets, which, in turn, mitigates our exposure to future price fluctuations,” Colin Mahoney, spokesperson for Goldwind USA, tells NAW. “This is a scenario that we have long considered.”
Despite RIS’ somewhat negative forecast, some say the worst is over. Because companies are looking to U.S. rare-earth suppliers, such as Molycorp, instead of to China – as well as coming up with alternatives that do not involve rare earths – there is some indication that prices may come down.
In fact, a recent New York Times article claims prices have dropped significantly since August.
Goldwind’s Mahoney agrees with that assessment.
“While the price of rare-earth materials have fluctuated over the past several years, more recent trends have included a dramatic drop in the neodymium market,” he says.
Still, it is uncertain how long these prices can be maintained, as demand for rare earths is expected to soar by 2015, the RIS report notes.
By: Laura DiMugno
September 30, 2011 (Source: Market Oracle) — The prosperity of China’s “authoritarian capitalism” is increasingly rewriting the ground-rules worldwide on the capitalist principles that have dominated the West’s economy for nearly two centuries.
Nowhere is this shadow war more between the two systems more pronounced than in the global arena of production of rare earths elements (REEs), where China currently holds a de facto monopoly, raising concerns from Washington through London to Tokyo about what China might do with its hand across the throat of high-end western technology.
In the capitalist West, as so convincingly dissected by Karl Marx, such a commanding position is a supreme and unique opportunity to squeeze the markets to maximize profits.
Except China apparently has a different agenda, poking yet another hole in Marx’s ironclad dictums about capitalism and monopolies, further refined by Lenin’s screeds after his Bolsheviks inadvertently acceded to power in 1917 in the debacle of Russia’s disastrous involvement in World War One. Far from squeezing its degenerate capitalist customers for maximum profit (and it’s relevant here to call Lenin’s dictum that if you want to hang a capitalist, he’ll sell you the rope to do it), Beijing has apparently adopted a “soft landing” approach on rare earths production, gradually constricting supplies whilst inveigling Western (and particularly Japanese) high tech companies to relocate production lines to China to ensure continued access to the essential commodities.
REEs are found in everyday products, from laptops to iPods to flat screen televisions and hybrid cars, which use more than 20 pounds of REEs per car. Other RRE uses include phosphors in television displays, PDAs, lasers, green engine technology, fiber optics, magnets, catalytic converters, fluorescent lamps, rechargeable batteries, magnetic refrigeration, wind turbines, and, of most interest to the Pentagon, strategic military weaponry, including cruise missiles.
Technology transfer is the essential overlooked component in China’s economic rise, and Beijing played Western greed on the subject like a Stradivarius, promising future access to China’s massive market in return, an opium dream that rarely occurred for most companies. You want unimpeded access to Chinese RREs? Fine – relocate a portion on your production lines here, or…
Which brings us back to today’s topic.
Rare earths and investment – where to go?
China is riding a profitable wave, which depending on what figures you read, produces 95-97 percent of current global supply, and unprocessed raw earth earths ores are currently going for more than $100,000 a ton, or $50 a pound, which some of the exotica fetching far more (niobium prices has increase an astounding 1,000 percent over the last year). Rare earth elements like dysprosium, terbium and europium come mainly from southern China.
According to a United States Energy Department report, dysprosium, crucial for clean energy products rose to $132 a pound in 2010 from $6.50 a pound in 2003.
The soaring prices however have also invigorated many countries and producers to begin looking in their own back yards, for both new deposits and former mining sites that were shuttered when production cost made them uneconomic before prices went through the ceiling.
However, a number of unknown factors play into developing alternative sources to current Chinese RRE production. These include first prospecting possible sites, secondly, their purity and third, initial production costs, where modest Chinese labor costs are a clear factor.
The 17 RRE elements on the Periodic Table are actually not rare, with the two least abundant of the group 200 times more abundant than gold. They are, however, hard to find in large enough concentrations to support costs of extraction, and are frequently found in conjunction with radioactive thorium, leading to significant waste problems.
At hearings last week before U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, Molycorp, Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer Mark A. Smith stated that his company was positioned to fulfill American rare earth needs, currently estimated at 15,000-18,000 tons per year, by the end of 2012 if it can ramp up production at its Mountain Pass, California facility.
Which brings us back to foreign producers. A year ago Molycorp announced that it was reopening its former RRE mine in Mountain Pass, Calif., which years ago used to be the world’s main mine for rare earth elements, filing with the SEC for an initial public offering to help raise the nearly $500 million needed to reopen and expand the mine. Low prices caused by Chinese competition caused the Mountain Pass mine to be shuttered in 2002.
Mountain Pass was discovered in 1949 by uranium prospectors who noticed radioactivity and its output dominated rare earth element production through the 1980s; Mountain Pass Europium made the world’s first color televisions possible.
Molycorp plans to increase its capacity to mine and refine neodymium for rare earth magnets, which are extremely lightweight and are used in many high-tech applications and intends to resume production of lower-value rare earth elements like cerium, used in industrial processes like polishing glass and water filtration.
In one of those historic economic ironies, China was able to increase its RRE production in the 1980s by initially hiring American advisers who formerly worked at Mountain Pass.
The record-high REE prices are also underwriting exploration activities worldwide by more than six dozen other companies in the United States, Canada, South Africa, Malaysia and Central Asia to open new RRE mines, but with each start-up typically raising $10 million to $30 million, not all will succeed. That said, the future is bright, as almost two-thirds of the world’s supply of REEs exists outside of China and accordingly, China’s current monopoly of REE production will not last.
So where do investors look to cash in on the RRE boom?
First, do your homework.
Exhibit A is Moylcorp, which would seem to be in unassailable position as regards U.S. production, but which nevertheless on 20 September after JPMorgan Chase & Co. lowered its rating of the company, citing declines in rare-earth prices, causing its stock to plummet 22 percent in New York Stock Exchange composite trading, despite being the best-performing U.S. IPO in 2010 after beginning trading in July, more than tripling after rare-earth prices soared as China cut export quotas.
Is there money to be made in RREs?
Undoubtedly – but the homework for the canny investor needs to extend beyond spreadsheets to geopolitics, mining lore, chemistry and Wall Street puffery. That said, it seems likely that whatever U.S.-based company can cover the Pentagon’s RRE requirements is likely to see more than a minor boost in its bottom line.
Gentlemen, place your bets – but do your homework first.