Rarest rare earths will stay in short supply

Despite worldwide efforts to reduce the consumption of rare earth elements, researcher IMARC Group expects strategies like substitution and recycling to have a little effect on demand for erbium, dysprosium, terbium, neodymium and europium in the short term.

Rare earth metals currently represent essential elements for various clean technology and hi-tech industries such as wind energy, hybrid cars, display, energy efficient lighting, etc. China currently has a monopoly over the global rare earth market as it accounts for over 97% of the total global production.

As a result of the shortfall and rising rare earth prices, companies have started developing alternatives or ways to reduce the consumption of these elements. In August 2011, GE announced the development of wind-turbine generators that are expected to reduce the dependence on rare earth based permanent magnets. W.R. Grace & Co. this year began selling an oil-refining catalyst with reduced lanthanum. Toyota, Asia’s biggest automaker, has recently announced that some of their hybrid vehicles will be built with an induction motor that doesn’t use rare-earth magnets.

In contrast to the scarcer REEs, MINING.com reported last week the price of the most abundant rare-earths are set to extend their decline from records this year. Prices of certain elements such as cerium used to polish TV screens and lenses are already down 40% after months of break-neck price hikes while lanthanum which finds its way into nickel-metal hydride batteries has shown similar declines. However, the price of some REEs such as samarium used in jet fighter electrical systems are showing no signs of decline despite increasing 25-fold in just three years.

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