Critical Metals Vital to Our Lives in Tight Supply

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?

By: Randy Hilarski - The Rare Metals Guy

Hafnium the Little Known Element with Huge Potential

The metal that is starting to get a great deal of attention from the military industrial complex was already well known in the nuclear industry and in the semiconductor industry. This metal is hafnium. Hafnium was discovered in 1923 by a Danish chemist named Dirk Coster and Georg Karl von Hevesey in Copenhagen. Its symbol on the periodic table is Hf and its atomic number is 72. Hafnium is considered a transition metal and is found as an impurity in Zircon ore deposits. The percentage in Zircon ore deposits is about 15%. The producers of Hafnium are Australia 42%, South Africa 32%, China 11% and a few other nations with smaller amounts.

Hafnium in semiconductors is an emerging use. A few years ago Hafnium replaced some uses of silicon in the semiconductor industry. Hafnium has increased the speed of the microprocessors, decreased the size, and made them more efficient. These chips have lowered energy leakage by 20%. ¨Silicon valley¨ has now become ¨Hafnium Valley¨.

In aviation, hafnium is used in super alloys. Due to it being an excellent refractory metal hafnium has applications where heat resistance is needed. It is used in the, ¨exhaust end¨, of jet engines. The melting point is 2233° C or 4,051° F.

The one area that may see a large increase of use is in the nuclear industry. The control rods which capture the neutrons released from nuclear fission are made of hafnium. The future for nuclear still looks bright even after the accidents in Japan. According to the, ¨Nuclear Engineering Handbook¨ there are 439 plants in operation with over 320 more proposed for the future. To be fair there are some substitutes like the silver, cadmium and indium control rods now available.

In the news recently we have heard about the military industrial complex and their interests in hafnium. One gram of hafnium contains as much energy as 700 pounds of TNT. According to the, ¨New Scientist¨ magazine the US military is developing technologies to use hafnium in its future bombs. The technology is said to produce bombs capable of releasing energy thousands of times greater than conventional weapons. Dr. Bill Herrmannsfeldt of Stanford University is not convinced. The Dr. does not believe that the military should be investing money in technologies that have no scientific basis. As a precaution the Dr. is asking for an independent review of the technology to see if it is scientifically possible.

Worldwide production of hafnium according to the USGS is unknown but we can make a good estimation because we know that hafnium is a byproduct of zirconium mining. Hafnium is a 15% impurity in Zircon ore. The USGS states that 1200t of zirconium are mined per year this would give us approximately 180t of hafnium. Official production is said to be 70t annually. This is a very small amount compared to many other elements and because there is very little information about the amounts of production it makes it difficult to have exact figures.

Unlike many rare industrial metals hafnium is not primarily controlled by China. Australia is the world´s largest producer. The production of hafnium is expected to increase approximately 4-4.5% annually. Hafnium has increased in value tremendously over the years. For over 30 years it consistently could be purchased in the vicinity of $200,000 per ton, now we have prices approaching $1,000,000 a ton. That is quite an increase. Inflation or demand, either way hafnium is performing very well for the producers and investors of the metal.

By: Randy Hilarski - The Rare Metals Guy

Asset protection with special metals - not just rare earths are in demand!

Translated from the original German Article that can be found here:


Due to the distrust of paper money system escape investors more and more into real assets. Besides real estate , precious metals and commodity exchanges traded commodities , however, there are other commodities which are increasing the interest of investors. Namely Special Metals Exchange Express spoke with the manager of the venerable German metal dealer Haines Maassen (www.hain-maassen.com) Mr. Gunther Maassen.

BE: Mr. Maassen, you will see an increased interest from investors, including you offer specialty metals investing?

For about four years recorded Haines and Maassen an increasing demand from investors for specialty metals such as indium, gallium and hafnium.

BE: Why do you advertise on a site for commodity investors? Should this be expanded in a targeted area?

Haines & Maassen has over 60 years and active trading in the metal during this period was continuously expanded the offering plate. This particular segment is not promoted specifically, but we have adapted to the needs of this industry and adapted our offerings accordingly. We see our role as a family but in the metal trade, and not as a financial investment advisor.

BE: Is it worth an investment at all in special metals? If an investor wants to sell the purchased metals again, how great the loss is due to the trading range?

Since we are not investment advisors, we want to leave the decision up to our customers. The fundamentals of supply and demand shall, however, seems to indicate that the sustained demand for many of these elements exceed the bid. When individual elements are signs of a significant shortage. Leading research institutions around the world, for example, predict a significant shortage of indium in the next 10-20 years. Include items such as tantalum, hafnium, and tellurium show depletion trends. The trading range in the metal trade the usual manner 10 to 20% higher.

BE: Is it for your company at all interesting to supply retail customers or are you collaborating with distributors for small deliveries to private homes?

Even as larger trading company, we look forward to every customer and ensure a competent, based on years of service experience. Each customer, whether he now buys 1 kg or 100 kg of indium, tantalum is just treated as an industrial consumer. For several years we have worked successfully with companies that have created the special baskets for consumers. Leading role in this market is the Schweizerische Metallhandels AG / Switzerland, which brought the first company to a sustainable system for investors in the market. This trained and experienced intermediaries has developed standardized solutions to investors to provide with smaller sums, the opportunity to participate in the development of strategic special metals.

BE: Is there or are you planning it, the metals are VAT-free to keep investors in a bonded warehouse ?

No, this service leaves Haines & Maassen companies like the Swiss metal trading SMH AG, which take on a pioneering role in this field. We see our task in the expert advice and supplies to customers. This has meant that our company has occupied in the commercial sector is not more than 70% of jobs with academics. Chemists, economists, certified interpreter and aspiring metallurgist to join our team. . This allows us a targeted advice at a high level.

BE: Which of you offer metals were the highest price increases in recent years?

There are a number of metals such as rare earths (neodymium, cerium, lanthanum, …) and tellurium, tantalum, indium, gallium, hafnium, and that have experienced including price developments of more than 100%. Appears much more important to us, however, that the price developments of several of these elements in the long term exceed the inflation rate and thus suitable as a value assurance.

BE: Which you can see because of the supply situation and the future demand (particularly by new technologies), the highest price appreciation potential?

This would I got the book “Strategic Metals for investors,” by Michael and me Vaupel point, which is launched in early November. Here it is precisely this question at the center. Of promising innovations will be closed to the required raw materials, which then permits a conclusion on price trends. We specifically do not want to move a single metal in the foreground, but on the contrary believe that a healthy mixture of different metals, the better alternative. BE: Which metals has China as the rare-earth quasi-supply monopoly , China has some metals offer a market share exceeding 50%. about 90% antimony, bismuth, germanium, about 67% about 67%, 60% indium, about 67% silicon and tungsten over 80%. These are just the elements in which China holds more than 50%. There is also a long list of substances for which the People’s Republic plays a significant role.

BE: Some metals are toxic or dangerous now. Is not that problematic when investors rush to such materials and store them at home? Or. even allowed all metals to be delivered?

Yes, clearly this is problematic and it is forbidden even in a single well. The delivery of some metals to individuals such as arsenic, selenium and tellurium are not only forbidden, but also jeopardize the customer. The transport is subject to restrictions. Here it is important that it is made ​​clear in the consultation, where the boundaries of a private storage are located.

BE: What are the traded you metals for investors at all in question and which are ruled out?

This question is very complex and I would again like to the book “Special Metal for Strategic Investors” link. There are plenty of metals that can store private (indium, tantalum, etc.), and there are metals that can be stored without problems by specialist companies (gallium, tellurium, etc.). When no sense can be considered elements that can fail either due to technical reasons (explosive, very toxic ..) or claim due to a relatively low price, very substantial storage space would be (lithium, manganese …).

BE: Why are entirely at your rare earths?

Excluded from the program they are not, if a customer wants to purchase rare earths we can offer him.

BE: Which of the traded you metals are traded on commodity exchanges?

To reach Western markets, these are only molybdenum and cobalt in the form of oxides. In China, there are over 200 raw evil, but they are for the West not accessible or meaningful.

BE: Do you think the interest in physical metal investment for temporary or if the stay a permanent plant-fixed point?

I am personally of the opinion that the trend towards be physical forms of investment is long term and sustainable. Haines & Maassen has set himself definitely on this development and the capacity significantly. For about six months, we have another large warehouse, which predominantly serves the industry as a reloading and packaging facility.

BE: How serious is the market for metals from the perspective of potential investors?

Romp around many charlatans of the matter actually have no idea (push-columns, rushing into this, what’s currently on the market)? Unfortunately, there are black sheep in every industry. It certainly makes sense to find out exactly and above all, the costs can be expected for an investment of over 10 years. It is often cheaper to pay a few percent at the beginning to press for more and ongoing costs. Especially when storage costs are frightening models that cause within 5 years, considerable cost.

BE: Mr. Maassen, thank you for your time!

Source: http://www.foonds.com

Rare earth elements vital to electronics industry

What do ics, lasers, optical fibres, capacitors, displays and headphones have in common? Answer: they are all electronic products that depend on one or more of the rare earth elements. And that list is far from complete.

 There are 17 rare earth elements, all vital to the electronics industry in some form. Yet, despite their name, some rare earth element

s are relatively plentiful: cerium is, apparently, as abundant as copper. They are regarded as ‘rare’ because deposits of these elements are generally not exploitable commercially.

Though typically used in relatively small quantities per product, a major worry has emerged recently about the guaranteed continuation of their supply – some 97% of rare earths are currently supplied by China.

Over the last few years, China has been reducing its exports of rare earths and recently cut back more drastically, by around 70%

. And an ominous note was sounded when China completely halted supplies to Japan after a row about Japan’s arrest of a Chinese boat captain. He was released and supplies resumed. Squabbles aside, the prediction is that, within a few years, China will need its entire output of rare earths to satisfy its own domestic demand.

So action is being taken to avoid the drastic scenario of the supply of rare earths simply coming to a halt (see below). If it did, it is astonishing how many electronic products we use every day would become either much more difficult – even impossible – to make or much more expensive.

Take one of the most widely used rare earths – neodymium. It was first used to generate the light in green laser pointers, but then it was found that, when mixed with iron and boron, neodymium makes magnets that are weight for weight 12 times stronger than conventional iron magnets. Result: neodymium magnets are used in in-ear headphones, microphones, loudspeakers and hard disk drives, as well as electric motors for hybrid cars and generators.

Where low mass is important, they are vital: for example, in laptops, they provide finer control in the motors that spin the hard disk and the arm that writes and reads data to and from it, allowing much more information to be stored in the same area.

In its Critical Materials Strategy, the US Department of Energy (DoE) estimates new uses of neodymium, in products like wind tu

rbines and electric cars, could make up 40% of demand in an already overstretched market, which is why any shortages would be critical.

Most of the rare earths vital to electronics are less well known: erbium is one example, a crucial ingredient in optical fibres. For long distance optical fibre transmission, amplification is vital and is achieved with the help of erbium. Embedded within short sections of the optical fibre, excitable ions of erbium are pushed into a high energy state by irradiating them with a laser. Light signals travelling down the fibre stimulate the erbium ions to release their stored energy as more light of precisely the correct wavelength, amplifying the signals.

Tellurium is an element that could see a huge increase in demand because in 2009, solar cells made from thin films of cadmium telluride became the first to outdo silicon panels in terms of the cost of generating a Watt of electricity. Until now, there has been little interest in tellurium, but if it leads to significantly cheaper solar power, demand will rocket and that is why the DoE anticipates potential shortages by 2025.

Hafnium is another rare earth proving itself vital to the semiconductor industry; hafnium oxide is a highly effective electrical ins

ulator. It outperforms the standard transistor material, silicon dioxide, in reducing leakage current, while switching 20% faster. It has been a major factor in enabling the industry to move to ever smaller process nodes.

Also central to semiconductors is tantalum, key to billions of capacitors used worldwide in products like smartphones and tablet computers. In its pure form, this metal forms one of two conducting plates on which charge is stored. As an oxide, it is an excellent insulator, preventing current leakage between the plates, and is also self healing, reforming to plug any current leakage.

One of the most widely used rare earths is indium, which we all spend a lot of time looking at. The alloy indium tin oxide (ITO) provides the rare combination of both electrical conductivity and optical transparency, which makes it perfect for flat screen displays and tvs,

where it forms the see through front electrode controlling each pixel. A layer of ITO on a smartphone’s screen gives it the touch sensitive conductivity to which we have been accustomed in the last few years. Mixed with other metals, indium becomes a light collector and can be used to create new kinds of solar cells, together with copper and selenium.

Another rare earth valuable for its magnetic properties is dysprosium. When mixed with terbium and iron, it creates the alloy Terfenol D, which changes shape in response to a magnetic field; a property known as magnetostriction. Dysprosium can also handle heat

; while magnets made from a pure neodymium-iron-boron alloy lose magnetisation at more than 300°C, adding a small amount of dysprosium solves the problem. This make the element invaluable in magnets used in devices such as turbines and hard disk drives.

Other rare earths include: technetium, used in medical imaging; lanthanum and, the main components of a ‘mischmetal’ (an alloy of rare earth elements) used to create the negative electrode in nickel metal hydride batteries – and cerium also helps to polish disk drives and monitor screens; yttrium, important in microwave communication, and yttrium iron garnets act as resonators in frequency meters; and europium and terbium.

The last have been used for decades to produce images in colour tvs, thanks to their phosphorescent properties – terbium for yellow-green and europium for blue and red. More recently, energy saving compact fluorescent light bulbs have used them to generate the same warm light as the incandescent tungsten bulbs they replaced.

Is there a single reason why the rare earths have proved so valuable for such a range of technologies? The answer is no – it is more a result of each element’s particular physical characteristics, notably the electron configuration of the atoms, according to one of the world’s leading experts, Karl Gschneidner, a senior metallurgist at the DoE’s Ames Laboratory.

“Some of the properties are quite similar; basically, their chemical properties. That is why they are difficult to separate from each other in their ores and that is why they are mixed together in the ores. But many of the physical properties vary quite a bit from one another, especially those which depend upon the 4f electron (a particular electron shell in the configuration of the atom), that is the magnetic, optical and electronic properties. Even some of the physical properties, which are not directly connected to the 4f electrons, vary considerably. For example the melting points vary from 798°C for cerium to 1663°C for lutetium.”

What makes the rare earths so special is the way they can react with other elements to get results that neither could achieve alone, especially in the areas of magnets and phosphors, as Robert Jaffe, a Professor of Physics at MIT, explains.

“The result is high field strength, high coercivity, light weight magnets, clearly valuable in tiny devices where magnetically stored information has to be moved around, like hard disk read/write operations. The magnetic properties of pure metals and relatively simple alloys have been thoroughly explored and there is nothing as good as rare earth magnets. Two paradigms for magnetic material are NeBFe (neodymium-boron-iron) and SmCo (samarium-cobalt), with the former most popular now.

“In phosphors, europium, terbium and others absorb high frequency light and then re emit the light in regions of the spectrum that are very useful in manipulation of colour, hence their use in flat panel displays and compact fluorescent lights.”

Another example is neodymium oxide, which can be added to crt glass to enhance picture brightness by absorbing yellow light waves. Neodymium has a strong absorption band centred at 580nm, which helps clarify the eye’s discrimination between reds and greens.

Given how vital they are for the electronics industry and other technologies – by one estimate, £3trillion worth of industries depend on them – it is remarkable that the world has been so complacent about sourcing rare earths, allowing a single country to virtually monopolise the supply. But that is now changing.

For example, the Mountain Pass mine in California is being reactivated by Molycorp Minerals in a $781million project, having been mothballed in 2002. Others include the Nolans and Mount Weld Projects in Australia, a site at Hoidas Lake in Canada, Lai Chau in Vietnam and others in Russia and Malaysia.

In Elk Creek, Nebraska, Canadian company Quantum Rare Earth Development is drilling to look for supplies and has called on President Obama to move aggressively to create a stockpile of rare earths.

Another associated problem is the lack of people with rare earth expertise, as Gschneidner says.

“There is a serious lack of technically trained personnel to bring the entire rare earth industry – from mining to OEMs – up to full speed in the next few years. Before the disruption of the US rare earth industry, about 25,000 people were employed in all aspects. Today, there are only about 1500.”

Despite these moves, it could be years before they enhance supplies significantly. For the longer term, there are prospects of better sources emerging. Just a couple of months ago, Japanese scientists from the University of Tokyo announced they had found the minerals in the floor of the Pacific Ocean in such high density that a single square kilometre of ocean floor could provide 20% of current annual world consumption. Two regions near Hawaii and Tahiti might contain as much as 100billion tonnes.

The team was led to the sea floor because they reasoned that many rock samples on land containing metallic elements were originally laid down as ocean sediments. “It seems natural to find rare earth element rich mud on the sea floor,” they said.

A final extraordinary fact about rare earths is that, despite their importance, we have hardly bothered to recycle them at all. In an age when metals like aluminium, copper, lead and tin have recycling rates of between 25% and 75%, it is estimated that only 1% of rare earths are recycled. Japan alone is estimated to have 300,000 tons of rare earths in unused electronic goods. If we do not correct that quickly, over the next few years at least, rare earths could live up to their name with a vengeance.

David Boothroyd
Source: http://www.newelectronics.co.uk

Why Buy and Store Metals Offshore

Storage Facility in Zurcher Freilager AG free zone in Switzerland

One of the most common questions I hear in the metals business is, “€œwhere do I store my metals?”. This question is often posed by a person, foundation or trust that is looking to secure their investments. Usually we hear about buyers of gold, silver, platinum and palladium who want to protect their assets but now there is a growing number of clients who are looking to diversify beyond the core metals we all know so well. How do we best protect our assets today with all the uncertainty? Here I will discuss why a portion of your metals should be stored offshore, and in what form works best.

What kinds of Metals can an Entity Store Offshore?
The metals people most often store outside of the country are gold and silver although experienced metals buyers might also buy platinum and palladium. Recently clients have been able to buy other rare industrial metals like tellurium, cobalt, molybdenum, hafnium, indium and tantalum. A few years ago the average investor would not have had the ability to buy some of these metals unless they owned a company that produced items which needed these rare industrial metals.

Why is it Wise to Store Offshore?
In the 1930′s during the Great Depression the US government confiscated all privately held gold. US citizens were not able to possess their own gold again until the 1970′s. Will we have a similar situation this time around with the world in its current state of transition? How is the US government planning on fixing this situation? Many countries are choosing inflation, currency devaluation, low interest rates and austerity measures. When these techniques fail to rein in the problems will governments turn to gold and their populations’ assets? One thing I know is that indium, cobalt, tantalum, tungsten and many of the other rare industrial metals and rare earth metals are on the critical metals list of the USA, EU, Japan, Korea and China. The question is whether rare earth metals and rare industrial metals will ever be deemed so crucial to economic and industrial applications that a country may decide to control the purchase of these metals. We see what China is doing with these metals and one must ask ones’€™ self, “€œCould these control measures spread to my country?”€.

The old saying, “€œdon’€™t put all your eggs in one basket”€, applies here. Clients commonly say, “€œI want to be able to touch my metals”€. This is great, and encouraged but the stress of knowing so much of your assets are under one roof can be too much to handle for the average person. The metals can possibly become a liability and risk to you and your family’€™s safety.

Why would I not take delivery of Rare Industrial Metals and Rare Earths?
Some clients may wish to take delivery of their metals. This can be done just like gold and silver but the big difference is that these metals are used in industry. When the client takes the metals to the broker they will ask for the metals to be assayed. This is the process of taking a sample and sending it to a lab to verify purity. Also when dealing with rare industrial metals the amounts can be quite large and take up a good deal of space. Some elements like hafnium are controlled because of its use in nuclear technologies and it cannot be transported internationally. The metals trader stores the metals for the client and upon request resells the metals.

How do I Store the Metals Offshore?
When researching where to store your metals make sure to do thorough due diligence. There are many options for the investor. The most common choice is a safety deposit box in a bank. Safety deposit boxes are the most widely recognized. They are great for small allocations of metals. Storing in your second home offshore is also a common choice. This is also good for the client who has a small allocation of metals. Offshore bank vaults are also an option but can be rather expensive. The best option for clients with medium to large amounts of metals is an offshore private vault or depository. The prices are reasonable and they offer unparalleled privacy. A good example would be the Zurcher Freilager AG free zone in Switzerland.

What about Taxes?
This is a complicated issue that needs to be addressed by a tax professional. Every country has its own tax rules which are far beyond my expertise. As far as the Zurcher Freilager AG is concerned, as long as the assets are sold within the free zone it is a tax free event.

What are you doing about securing your future? Every day we hear more and more about an unstable financial market, geo political uncertainty, governments overreaching and bad economies. Wouldn’t it be prudent to have your assets spread out across the world?

What is holding you back?

By: Randy Hilarski - The Rare Metals Guy
Source: http://www.buyrareearthmetalschinaprices.com

Thirteen Exotic Elements We can’t Live Without

From indium touchscreens to hafnium-equipped moonships, the nether regions of the periodic table underpin modern technology,€“ but supplies are getting scarce

AS YOU flick the light switch in your study, an eerie europium glow illuminates your tablet computer, idling on the desk. You unlock it, casually sweeping your finger across its indium-laced touchscreen. Within seconds, pulses of information are pinging along the erbium-paved highways of the internet. Some music to accompany your surfing? No sooner thought than the Beach Boys are wafting through the neodymium magnets of your state-of-the-art headphones.

For many of us, such a scene is mundane reality. We rarely stop to think of the advances in materials that underlie our material advances. Yet almost all our personal gadgets and technological innovations have something in common: they rely on some extremely unfamiliar materials from the nether reaches of the periodic table. Even if you have never heard of the likes of hafnium, erbium or tantalum, chances are there is some not too far from where you are sitting.

You could soon be hearing much more about them, too. Demand for many of these unsung elements is soaring, so much so that it could soon outstrip supply. That’s partly down to our insatiable hunger for the latest gadgetry, but increasingly it is also being driven by the green-energy revolution. For every headphone or computer hard-drive that depends on the magnetic properties of neodymium or dysprosium, a wind turbine or motor for an electric car demands even more of the stuff. Similarly, the properties that make indium indispensable for every touchscreen make it a leading light in the next generation of solar cells.

All that means we are heading for a crunch. In its Critical Materials Strategy, published in December last year, the US Department of Energy (DoE) assessed 14 elements of specific importance to clean-energy technologies. It identified six at “critical” risk of supply disruption within the next five years: indium, and five “rare earth” elements, europium, neodymium, terbium, yttrium and dysprosium. It rates a further three - cerium, lanthanum and tellurium - as “near-critical”.

What’s the fuss?

It’s not that these elements aren’t there: by and large they make up a few parts per billion of Earth’s crust. “We just don’t know where they are,” says Murray Hitzman, an economic geologist at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden. Traditionally, these elements just haven’t been worth that much to us. Such supplies are often isolated as by-products during the mining of materials already used in vast quantities, such as aluminium, zinc and copper. Copper mining, for example, has given us more than enough tellurium, a key component of next-generation solar cells, to cover our present needs - and made it artificially cheap.

“People who are dealing with these new technologies look at the price of tellurium, say, and think, well, this isn’t so expensive so what’s the fuss?” says Robert Jaffe, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He chaired a joint committee of the American Physical Society and the Materials Research Society on “Energy Critical Elements” that reported in February this year. The problem, as the report makes clear, is that the economics changes radically when demand for these materials outstrips what we can supply just by the by. “Then suddenly you have to think about mining these elements directly, as primary ores,” says Jaffe. That raises the cost dramatically - presuming we even know where to dig.

An element’s price isn’t the only problem. The rare earth group of elements, to which many of the most technologically critical belong, are generally found together in ores that also contain small amounts of radioactive elements such as thorium and uranium. In 1998, chemical processing of these ores was suspended at the only US mine for rare earth elements in Mountain Pass, California, due to environmental concerns associated with these radioactive contaminants. The mine is expected to reopen with improved safeguards later this year, but until then the world is dependent on China for nearly all its rare-earth supplies. Since 2005, China has been placing increasingly stringent limits on exports, citing demand from its own burgeoning manufacturing industries.

That means politicians hoping to wean the west off its ruinous oil dependence are in for a nasty surprise: new and greener technologies are hardly a recipe for self-sufficiency. “There is no country that has sufficient resources of all these minerals to close off trade with the rest of the world,” says Jaffe.

So what can we do? Finding more readily available materials that perform the same technological tricks is unlikely, says Karl Gschneidner, a metallurgist at the DoE’s Ames Laboratory in Iowa. Europium has been used to generate red light in televisions for almost 50 years, he says, while neodymium magnets have been around for 25. “People have been looking ever since day one to replace these things, and nobody’s done it yet.”

Others take heart from the success story of rhenium. This is probably the rarest naturally occurring element, with a concentration of just 0.7 parts per billion in Earth’s crust. Ten years ago, it was the critical ingredient in heat-resistant superalloys for gas-turbine engines in aircraft and industrial power generation. In 2006, the principal manufacturer General Electric spotted a crunch was looming and instigated both a recycling scheme to reclaim the element from old turbines, and a research programme that developed rhenium-reduced and rhenium-free superalloys.

No longer throwing these materials away is one obvious way of propping up supplies. “Tellurium ought to be regarded as more precious than gold - it is; it is rarer,” says Jaffe. Yet in many cases less than 1 per cent of these technologically critical materials ends up being recycled, according to the United Nations Environment Programme’s latest report on metal recycling, published in May.

Even if we were to dramatically improve this record, some basic geological research to find new sources of these elements is crucial - and needed fast. Technological concerns and necessary environmental and social safeguards mean it can take 15 years from the initial discovery of an ore deposit in the developed world to its commercial exploitation, says Hitzman.

Rhenium again shows how quickly the outlook can change. In 2009, miners at a copper mine in Cloncurry, Queensland, Australia, discovered a huge, high-grade rhenium seam geologically unlike anything seen before. “It could saturate the world rhenium market for a number of years - and it was found by accident,” says Hitzman.

In the end, we should thank China for its decision to restrict exports of rare earths, says Jaffe, as it has brought the issue of technologically critical elements to our attention a decade earlier than would otherwise have happened. Even so, weaning ourselves off these exotic substances will be an immense challenge - as our brief survey of some of these unsung yet indispensable elements shows.

US Department of Energy, Critical Materials Strategy
American Physical Society and Materials Research Society, Energy Critical Elements
US Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries

by James Mitchell Crow

Precious Metals: Is Tellurium the new Gold?

Rare Industrial - Metal - Tellurium

Gold has been spectacularly popular among investors for the past couple of years.

Silver seems to be this year’s gold.

So, what’s next year’s silver gonna be?

According to Robert Jaffe, a physicist at MIT, tellurium could be a metal investor’s best new play.

“Tellurium ought to be regarded as more precious than gold — it is; it is rarer,” he tells New Scientist magazine.

An article by James Mitchell Crow in the June, 2011 issue of New Scientist, titled “13 Exotic Elements We Can’t Live Without,” points out:

We rarely stop to think of the advances in materials that underlie our material advances. Yet almost all our personal gadgets and technological innovations have something in common: they rely on some extremely unfamiliar materials from the nether reaches of the periodic table. Even if you have never heard of the likes of hafnium, erbium or tantalum, chances are there is some not too far from where you are sitting.

You could soon be hearing much more about them, too. Demand for many of these unsung elements is soaring, so much so that it could soon outstrip supply. That’s partly down to our insatiable hunger for the latest gadgetry, but increasingly it is also being driven by the green-energy revolution. For every headphone or computer hard-drive that depends on the magnetic properties of neodymium or dysprosium, a wind turbine or motor for an electric car demands even more of the stuff. Similarly, the properties that make indium indispensable for every touchscreen make it a leading light in the next generation of solar cells.

All that means we are heading for a crunch. In its Critical Materials Strategy, published in December last year, the US Department of Energy (DoE) assessed 14 elements of specific importance to clean-energy technologies. It identified six at “critical” risk of supply disruption within the next five years: indium, and five “rare earth” elements, europium, neodymium, terbium, yttrium and dysprosium. It rates a further three - cerium, lanthanum and tellurium - as “near-critical”.

Here are the 13 elements necessary for cleantech applications that may be winners in this year’s commodities portfolio:


New Scientist says:

These numerous uses make for a perfect storm threatening future supplies. In its Critical Materials Strategy, which assesses elements crucial for future green-energy technologies, the US Department of Energy estimates that wind turbines and electric cars could make up 40 per cent of neodymium demand in an already overstretched market. Together with increasing demand for the element in personal electronic devices, that makes for a clear “critical” rating.


New Scientist says:

Erbium is a crucial ingredient in the optical fibres used to transport light-encoded information around the world. These cables are remarkably good at keeping light bouncing along, easily outperforming a copper cable transporting an electrical signal. Even so, the light signal slowly fades as it racks up the kilometres, making amplification necessary.


New Scientist says:

In 2009, solar cells made from thin films of cadmium telluride became the first to undercut bulky silicon panels in cost per watt of electricity generating capacity.

Because the global market for the element has been minute compared with that for copper - some $100 million against over $100 billion - there has been little incentive to extract it. That will change as demand grows, but better extraction methods are expected to only double the supply, which will be nowhere near enough to cover the predicted demand if the new-style solar cells take off. The US DoE anticipates a supply shortfall by 2025.


Hafnium’s peerless heat resistance has taken it to the moon and back as part of the alloy used in the nozzle of rocket thrusters fitted to the Apollo lunar module. Since 2007, though, it has also been found much closer to home, in the minuscule transistors of powerful computer chips.

That’s because hafnium oxide is a highly effective electrical insulator. Compared with silicon dioxide, which is conventionally used to switch transistors on and off, it is much less likely to let unwanted currents seep through. It also switches 20 per cent faster, allowing more information to pass. This has enabled transistor size to shrink from 65 nanometres with silicon dioxide first to 45 nm and now to 32 nm.

By Justin Rohrlich June 20, 2011

German Newspaper Talks About Industrial Metals

Translation from an article in the German Financial Times:

Most people are not aware of the demand and value of rare metals. For more information regarding these metals, their uses, and their values, Haines and Maassen, one of just a few traders, will be able to provide you with any needed information.

Scandium, Lanthanum, Ytterbium. These words are foreign to most people but amongst people in the know, they are words which cause a lot of excitement today. These are metals rare and otherwise which are starting to become scarce. These scarcities are a real threat to many industrial countries, because these metals are used for important current and future technologies such as batteries for electric cars, aircraft turbines, solar panels or TV and PC screens

Many rare metals are currently produced in countries with complicated political environments. Countries like Russia, Brazil, Congo and China. China produces over 90% of the rare metals in the world today. The problem is that China covets these metals as much as any one and is currently drastically reducing their export levels to other industrial countries in need of these metals. At this particular time, because of scarity, there are 14 metals that are considered rare.

An Established Network

Even before China’s export restrictions it was not easy to get these commodities. Although there is a stock exchange in Shanghai, foreigners are not allowed to buy rare metals there. In a village close to Bonn, Germany, is an inconspicuous looking warehouse of a family-owned business called Haines & Maassen. In this warehouse many coveted commodities can be found. The five-meter-high shelves accommodate approximately 850 different metals in boxes, barrels, glass containers or bags. In one of the lower compartments are eleven barrels, 50 inches high and wide containing the metal, Hafnium.

According to the owners, “Gunther Maassen stores about 5 percent of the annual global production of Hafnium in their warehouse.”

Long-standing relationships benefit the company

For the last 40 years, the 77 year old father and patriarch of the family-owned buisness visits the London Metal Exchange every year even when there are no coveted and rare earth metals being traded. His sons regularly travel the world in order to maintain contacts and establish new ones. The family has a particularly good relationship with the Chinese, from which the company gets a little more than half of its stock of raw materials. The Maassens are currently benefitting from long-standing well-established, nurtured buisness relationship

The warehouse is not large but contains a fortune in metals.

More than 60 years ago the father of this family started in the metal business, and today both of his sons help run the company. Their specialty is the niche product of rare metals. “The important factor is that we built an established network, that allows us to bring the few producers and consumers together,” said Maassen. In the case of Hafnium there only three large manufacturers in the world and one of those is currently not in production.

Long-standing relationships benefit the company

For the last 40 years, the 77 year old father and patriarch of the family-owned buisness visits the London Metal Exchange every year even when there are no coveted and rare earth metals being traded. His sons regularly travel the world in order to maintain contacts and establish new ones. The family has a particularly good relationship with the Chinese, from which the company gets a little more than half of its stock of raw materials. The Maassens are currently benefitting from long-standing well-established, nurtured buisness relationships.

Deliverys are made to research institutions, industry and investors.

Thanks to their good name, they are also praised by foreign companies which wish to sell their metals. And even if someone is looking for a very specific commodity, it is Maassen’s pleasure to help. “We have a gentleman sitting in China, acting as a scout who recieves directions from us,” said Maassen. “He is highly-effective and instrumental in providing us with new clients and new contacts. “

Rare earth metals as an investment

Special requests come mostly from research institutes. As a matter of fact, eighty percent of the Haines and Maassen contracts, are with research institutes. But the family business sells the bulk of their metals to industry as research institutes only require small quantities.

Most recently, buisnesses and individuals outside of industry are beginning to buy substantial quantities of rare metals as a tangible asset used to combat the negative effects of inflation and the devaluing of currency.

It was because of this increasing scarcity within the commodity markets that the Maassen’s decided to bring the investors and the industry together, “In four or five years at the peak of the shortage if reached, the investors will be able to provide those materials to the industry. In return, the industry could contribute to the storage costs and receive advance rights for those rare metals.” , said Maassen.

A family that appreciates minerals

Apart from all his business activities Gunther Maassen is also a big fan of metals and rare products. He has collected large blocks of different materials, which are worth a fortune as they come directly from the the mines. If you visit Maassen it is not unusual to get a piece of a meteor placed in your hands to be surprised with its heavy weight. “We also have a deep-sea manganese nodule. That is the material which is in small chunks at three to four thousand meters depth on the ocean floor,” according to Gunther.

This enthusiasm for rare metals has spread to his sons who subsequently joined the company. The Maassen’s would never sell these particular pieces but they do lend them for exhibitions on occasions. These are family treasures to be passed down from generation to generation in the years to come.

Author: Insa Wrede
Editor: Rolf Wenkel

How electronics boom is creating surge in demand for rare metals

Everything from iPods to Toyota Priuses to wind turbines are made using rare metals.
By Andy Bloxham 7:45AM GMT 11 Feb 2011

For example, the silver-grey metal tantalum is used in mobiles as a powder which helps regulate voltage, which would otherwise drop as temperatures rose. Its abilities have been vital to reducing the size of mobiles.

Hafnium is a key ingredient of Intel’s computer chips.

However, China produces around 97% of the world’s supplies, much of it coming from small mines operated by criminal gangs.

In the middle of last year, when the world market for rare earths was only £870m a year, China capped production levels and imposed a moratorium on all new mining licences until June this year.

Then, in December, it cut exports of the metals by over a third, prompting protests from Japan and the US.

With demand for iPhones and iPods soaring (Apple sold a total of 23m of the gadgets in the last three months of 2010 alone) and China keeping a tight rein on supply, the price is only likely to rise strongly.

So-called “rare earth” metals are named as such because when mining boomed in the 18th century, they were particularly hard to extract.

There are 17 of them but they are necessary building materials for navigation systems, radar, night vision goggles and, more importantly, mobile phones.

They include cerium (symbolised by Ce), lanthanum (La), neodymium (Nd), dysprosium (Dy), terbium (Tb) and europium (Eu).

Hafnium- Small Supply Big Applications

With an average crustal abundance of 3 ppm (parts per million), hafnium,€” a shiny, silver-gray metal often used in alloys and nuclear science,€” certainly isn’t rare. The metal is more abundant in the Earth’s crust than gold, silver, the PGMs, a number of the rare earths and the likes of germanium, tantalum and molybdenum. But as a metal, hafnium is only produced in quite small quantities, currently probably not much more than 70 tonnes a year.

There are two main reasons for this. First, hafnium is only ever produced as a byproduct of refining zirconium for use in nuclear-related applications, especially in nuclear power plants. Second, it is extremely difficult to separate the metal from zirconium, the element with which it is most often found.

 Indeed, because of this, only two significant producers of the metal exist worldwide at present: ATI Wah Chang [part of Allegheny Technologies Inc. (ATI) in Oregon in the U.S.; and CEZUS in Jarrie, France, part of France's AREVA group (ARVCF.PK) and the world's largest builder of nuclear power stations].

A Bit of History

Given the difficulties in recovering the metal, it may come as no surprise that hafnium was one of the last elements to be discovered. Although scientists had already reserved a place for it on the periodic table, element 72 (hafnium) had yet to be identified as recently as 1920.

In 1923, hafnium was identified (using X-ray analysis) as being distinct from zirconium, and recognized as an element in its own right by the Dutch physicist Dirk Coster and Nobel Prize-winning Hungarian chemist Gyrgy Hevesy, working in Copenhagen, Denmark. The name hafnium comes from Hafnia, the Latin name for Copenhagen.

Whence Hafnium?

In its metallic state, hafnium is a shiny, ductile metal about twice as dense as zirconium. However, hafnium is never found as a pure metal, and it must undergo a long and complex refining process to end up as such.

In nature, hafnium occurs with zirconium at a ratio of around 1:50, appearing in a number of zirconium-bearing ores and minerals, such as zircon and baddeleyite. (There are at least two other hafnium-bearing ores — alvite and hafnon, but they are not common.)

The primary source of hafnium is the zircon that results from the processing of zirconium-bearing ilmenite, or heavy mineral sands. This is further separated into rutile (consisting mainly of titanium dioxide, TiO2) and zircon (ZrSiO4) sand. (Not all ilmenites, however, contain zirconium and, thus, hafnium.)

The world’s major producers of zircon sand are Australia, South Africa and China, while Brazil, Ukraine and Russia all possess and produce commercially viable resources of baddeleyite.

 The production of hafnium metal is predicated upon the production of zirconium metal sponge from zircon sand, generally for the nuclear industry. For zirconium to be effective in nuclear fuel rods, it needs to be as transparent and impermeable to neutrons as possible. This, in turn, requires that the rods contain as little hafnium as possible, since hafnium’s thermal neutron absorption cross section is some 600 times that of zirconium.

While their neutron absorption properties of hafnium and zirconium are almost exactly opposite, in nearly all other aspects except density, the two metals’ chemistries are nearly identical. This is why they are so difficult to separate.

In the past, hafnium metal was produced via a process developed by van Arkel and de Boer, in which the vapor of the tetraiodide was passed over a heated tungsten filament. These days, nearly all hafnium metal is made via the Kroll process, by reducing the tetrachloride either with magnesium or with sodium. The metal can then be purified further either using the van Arkel/de Boer iodine process or electron beam melting. The first method is currently used by ATI Wah Chang to produce its ultralow zirconium hafnium crystal bar.

Uses Of Hafnium

Currently, hafnium has three important uses: superalloys (in both aerospace and nonaerospace), refractory metal alloys and nuclear applications.


In high-temperature alloys and polycrystalline nickel-based superalloys, hafnium’s high melting point, 2,233°C (4,051°F) — helps strengthen grain boundaries, thus considerably improving both high-temperature creep and tensile strength. In addition, with its high affinity for carbon, nitrogen and oxygen, the metal also provides strengthening through second-phase particle dispersion.

One of the most common uses of hafnium is as one of the alloys in the superalloys used in the turbine blades and vanes found in the “hot end” of jet engines, i.e., in environments with very high temperatures and pressure and high stress. Such superalloys can contain 1-2 percent hafnium. For example, MAR-M 247,€” a polycrystalline nickel-based alloy developed by Martin-Marietta Corp. and used by Siemens in land-based turbines that operated at temperatures up to 1,038C,€” contains 1.5 percent hafnium.

Hafnium can also to be found in a number of other alloys, such as tantalum-based T111 (Ta-8%W-2%Hf); tantalum/tungsten-based T222 (Ta-10%W-2.5%Hf-0.01%C) and molybdenum-based MHC, or molybdenum-hafnium-carbide, which breaks into 1.2%Hf-0.1%C (the rest moly). In addition, it can be found in a number of niobium-based alloys: C-103 (10% Hf-1%Ti-1%Zr); C-129Y (10%W-10%Hf-0.7%Y) and WC-3015 (30%Hf-15%W-1.5%Zr).

Among other applications, niobium-based alloys containing hafnium have been used as coatings for cutting tools, while C-103 and hafnium-tantalum-carbide have been used in the fabrication of rocket engine thruster nozzles.

In both alloys containing tantalum and molybdenum, as well as in binary compounds, hafnium is also an excellent refractory material. With a melting point of over 3,890°C, hafnium carbide (HfC) makes one of the most refractory binary materials around. And with a melting point of some 3,310°C, hafnium nitride is the most refractory of all known metal nitrides.

And there could be a number of as-yet-undiscovered uses for hafnium both in alloys and in catalysts. Several years ago, an article appeared in Chemical & Engineering News: “Happening Hafnium: Once obscure transition metal is now garnering attention as a potential superstar catalyst.”


We have hafnium metal only as a result of the decision to use zirconium in nuclear applications. As mentioned previously, purified zirconium must contain as little hafnium as possible to be of any use in uranium-based fuel rods, so the hafnium must be entirely removed. Thus, it’s perhaps appropriate that, apart from its use in alloys, one of hafnium’s other major applications is in nuclear contexts.

While the chemistry of hafnium and zirconium may be quite similar, their properties in a nuclear environment could not be more dissimilar. Zirconium is virtually transparent to neutrons, while hafnium is extremely absorbent. Thus, while the fuel rods themselves are often made out of zirconium, control rods (which mop up the neutrons flying around and, therefore, slow nuclear fission in the reactor) are often made of hafnium. One of their first uses in this context was in the pressurized light water reactors used to power such naval vessels as submarines.

It is, though, interesting to note that the effects of contamination of one metal by the other appear not to be symmetric; hafnium control rods can still function effectively if they contain up to 4.5 percent zirconium, but certainly not vice versa for fuel rods. In addition to its neutron absorbency, hafnium also boasts two further valuable properties in the nuclear context: strength and resistance to corrosion.

Other applications of hafnium are quite varied:

Plasma welding and arc cutting: Because of its ability to shed electrons into air and hence establish an electric arc, hafnium is used as an insert in plasma torch welding tips instead of tungsten, and as a cathode in plasma arc cutting.

Microprocessors: Chip-makers use hafnium chloride (HfCl4) and hafnium oxide (HfO2) in microprocessors, not least of which because its temperature resistance makes it a good replacement for silicon. For example, Intel’s 45nm high-k chip is hafnium-based, following the company’s discovery that “introducing hafnium into silicon chips helps reduce electrical leakage enabling smaller, more energy-efficient and performance-packed processors.” Other electronics companies are now looking at the possibility of using hafnium oxide to make ReRAM.

CVD/PVD coating: Hafnium is often used as a thin film coating to provide hardness and protection (for example, in optical applications), via either chemical vapor deposition (CVD) or physical vapor deposition (PVD).

Lasers: Hafnium oxide is also used in blue lasers in DVD readers.

Demand For Hafnium

Figures for both demand and supply of hafnium are extremely difficult to find, not least because of both the exiguous number of producers and the relatively small number of consumers. It is, therefore, possible only really to give either “typical” figures or best “estimates.”

On the demand side, typical annual demand for the metal remains around 77 tonnes.

While the demand for hafnium from the electronics industry (for chips) appears to be increasing slightly, there is strong demand growth for the metal both in air plasma applications and superalloys. (In the aerospace industry, in general, engine manufacturers are always seeking materials that will enable their engines to run at higher temperatures and, hence, consume fuel more efficiently.)

It is, however, from the nuclear industry that the greatest growth in demand may arise. According to the World Nuclear Association, quoting figures from the Nuclear Engineering International Handbook 2010, there are currently some 439 nuclear power plants in commercial operation alone, with 60 under construction in 15 different countries. More than 155 further power reactors are planned worldwide, with over 320 more proposed. What’s more, in order to increase capacity, many reactors already in operation are either in the process of or will soon be upgraded. And this does not take into account the routine maintenance/replacement work that is always being undertaken.

That said, however, control rods in, say, pressurized water reactors are not exclusively made using hafnium. Because of both its limited availability and relatively high price, a number of other materials can be and are substituted; for example, boron or silver-indium-cadmium alloys, which usually contain 80 percent Ag, 15 percent In, and 5 percent Cd.

Supply Of Hafnium

Estimates are that the two main hafnium producers, ATI Wah Chang and CEZUS, produce around 40 tonnes and 30 tonnes of the metal annually, respectively (of which, 20 tonnes and 10 tonnes, respectively, is hafnium crystal bar, which has both ultralow gas and zirconium contents). It may be less, however.

India produces the metal but does not export it. China, too, produces hafnium, but not of any useful purity: maybe around two tonnes a year. While both the technology and plants currently exist to remove hafnium from zirconium, they do not yet exist to refine hafnium to any significant level of purity; for example, 0.2-0.5 percent (or ultra/extra low) zirconium content.

In the past, both Russia and Ukraine produced hafnium under the Soviet system. In Russia, JSC “Chepetsky Mechanical Plant,” Glasov still lists hafnium as one of its products. And in Ukraine, the Volnogorsk State Mining-Metallurgical Integrated Works in the Dnepropetrovsk region indicates that it, too, produces hafnium. Estimates are that only some 2 tonnes of hafnium currently come out of Russia and/or Ukraine currently; most of what originates from Ukraine most probably comes from stockpiled past production rather than any current production.

Looking ahead, Russia certainly has the potential to produce anywhere between 3 and 10 tonnes of hafnium a year, and Ukraine perhaps even 5 tonnes. And, with its nuclear energy ambitions, China will certainly be looking at producing high-purity hafnium sooner rather than later. Whether it will export any excess (should there be any), however, remains imponderable.

 What is being produced “under the radar,” however, is anybody’s guess.

Hafnium Prices

The price of hafnium is interesting on two counts. First, historically, the price of the metal has remained very steady over quite long periods — from 1970 to 2000 there was extraordinarily little volatility in it price. Second, it appears to be so cheap. Currently, hafnium with 0.2-0.5 percent zirconium content sells for around $1,200-1,300 per kilogram. On occasion, hafnium with an even lower zirconium content (<0.1 percent) is produced and sold at an even higher premium. The metal with 0.5-1.0 percent zirconium content sells for $800-900 per kilo, while that with 1-3 percent zirconium content sells for $500-700 per kilo.

However, with only around 70 tonnes of the metal being produced each year, compared to, say, only about 50 tonnes of rhenium produced each year, one wonders: Why does hafnium fetch so much less than rhenium, which currently sells for $4,000-5,000 per kilo?

Opportunities In Hafnium

Unfortunately, because of both its strategic nature in the nuclear arena and the difficulties involved in its production, there are no pure plays in hafnium. Hafnium is either produced by state-owned concerns or as just one line of business for the two big groups producing the metal commercially: ATI Wah Chang and CEZUS.

Of course, “pure play” in this context will never be possible insofar as hafnium production having always been associated with zirconium production. However, this is not to say that, looking ahead, there may not be companies in either China or Russia that offer pure plays in both. Whether or not they are permitted to be publicly owned, though, is a different matter.

And for any of you who may be wondering if you can go out, buy a bar of hafnium crystal and store it in your cellar as an investment, the answer is pretty much an assured: “No!”

While the metal itself is, in most (but not all) forms, not hazardous, under the “Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,” hafnium is considered a “dual use” metal. So, any chances of your buying it, as an investor, without the correct import/export licenses and end-user statements and squirreling it away are probably zippo.

But don’t think people haven’t tried smuggling it: Ukrainian Customs Confiscate Nuclear Material from Two Germans and Bulgaria Prevents Smuggling of Nuclear Metal. In this last instance, four men tried to get 3.4 kg of the metal across the border from Bulgaria to Romania undetected. Of course, the question remains as to why they were stopped in the first place …


For those who might enjoy reading about some of the more “interesting” possible uses of hafnium, discussions around its use as an energy source or weapon of mass destruction are sure to amuse - if only for some of the surprising claims that have, in the past, been made of the metal.

March 1, 2011
By Tom Vulcan

Rare Earth Elements and Rare Industrial Metals

Swiss Metal Assets offers packages or “baskets” with the following metals that will secure and protect your wealth and inflation because these metals are in High Demand by different manufacturers and used in 80% of industry today.

Hafnium is a heavy metal of high density (13.31 g/cm3), a lustrous, silvery gray, tetravalent transition metal. Hafnium is found neither dignified nor in their own minerals.

Hafnium is used in nuclear power plants. China already decided to start to construct many nuclear power plants. The demand for hafnium will increase even more because of this fundamental decision. In the nuclear industry such as in aircraft hafnium is in strong demand.

The hafnium we are offering has the big quality of not more than 1% of zirconium in it. It is difficult to buy this quality it in the market. But we do have it. So our hafnium really can be resold, the demand for that quality is high.

Indium has a great future ahead. The main application is in solar technology. A hot new economic use will be the coating of screens / windshields of cars with indium. Ice is then without any chance - even at -0.4° Fahrenheit (-18 ° C). Before the economic crisis indium was already three times as expensive as today.

Gallium can be alloyed with numerous other metals. Due to its ideal attributes high-purity Gallium is mainly used as semiconductor material. The chips so produced are faster than others. Furthermore, it is used in the optoelectronic area, i.e. for the production of LEDs, in thermometers as eutectic consisting of Gallium-Indium-Tin, and others.

Bismuth is a rare, reddish-white semi-metal. Bismuth is used for the production of alloys and in medicine it is applied in field of chemotherapy.

Tantalum is used in alloys. Tantalum is very hard and can be applied for the production of surgical instruments, electronic elements and fast turning steels.

Tellurium is used as a pigment for glass and in alloys. Furthermore, Tellurium compounds are applied in the semi-conductor electronic area.

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Our metals include but are not limited to Hafnium, Gallium, Indium, Bismuth, Tantalum and Tellurium which are used in the fabrication of different items we use every day from the fiber optic wire that connects to the internet, to, parts of nuclear reactors that provide SAFE electric power to your house.

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