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The Rare Earths: Top Spot for the Bottom of the Periodic Table

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Over the past few years, the rare earths went from being a mostly ignored part of the periodic table to being at the forefront of the conversation for a number of commercial, technical, political and strategic reasons. Starting with some historical background, this talk explains what has happened, how these elements inconspicuously connect to our daily lives, why they are important to us and where things are likely to go in the future.

Given at St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN on October 21, 2013

http://wp.stolaf.edu/physics/files/2013/10/posterTrout.pdf

http://wp.stolaf.edu/physics/colloquium/

Published in: Technology, Business
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The Rare Earths: Top Spot for the Bottom of the Periodic Table

  1. 1. The Rare Earths: Top Spot for the Bottom of the Periodic Table S. R. Trout October 21, 2013
  2. 2. Outline • Background – Personal – Rare Earths • Rare Earth Sources • Rare Earth Applications – Lighting – Catalysts – Magnets • Recycling • The Future, Why is it so complicated?
  3. 3. Background Stops along the way • Univ. of Pennsylvania • Companies – – – – – Recoma Crucible Hitachi Magnequench Molycorp • Academic – Metro State University of Denver – Marian University – Alma College – Ellis University – Ivy Tech • Consulting
  4. 4. Rare Earths Sc Y La Ce Pr Nd Pm Sm Eu Gd Tb Dy Ho Er Tm Yb Lu
  5. 5. Rare Earths • Ores contain all rare earths except Pm • The rare earths are chemically very similar • There is no shortage of ore – Bastnasite & Monazite are the most common • Most ores are rich in Ce, La, Nd and Pr – Not all rare earths are rare in the Earth • Magnetic, optical, electronic and catalytic properties vary widely • The lanthanide contraction • Producers try to balance supply and demand – And are rarely successful!
  6. 6. Dilbert, February 28, 2011
  7. 7. Critical Materials Hub • DOE Program – – – – $120 million, 5 years National Labs Academe Industry • Reduce criticality Source: DOE Announcement May 2012
  8. 8. Recent RE Metal Prices
  9. 9. Global Rare Earth Production Trends Source: U.S. Geological Survey
  10. 10. 1 km Bayan Obo mine , near Baotou, China Photo from Google Earth
  11. 11. ~1 km Mountain Pass, CA, source: Molycorp
  12. 12. Rare Earth Sources • Active mines – China • Baotou • Ionic Ores • Mines coming on stream – USA • Mountain Pass, CA – Australia • Mt. Weld • Under Development – Australia • Nolan’s Bore – Canada • Hoidas Lake • Nechalacho – – – – India Brazil Vietnam Russia
  13. 13. Rare Earths Bastnasite Ore Others Nd 2% 12% Pr 6% Ce 49% La 31%
  14. 14. Separating the Rare Earths Source: ORNL
  15. 15. Rare Earth Markets Ceramics 4% Others Catalyst Glass 3% 5% 2% Polishing 4% Phosphors 31% Do the markets change over time? Metal Alloys 14% Magnets 37% Dollar basis 2008 Source: IMCOA
  16. 16. Early Lighting Options Welsbach Candoluminescence Edison Incandescence Source: Gas Light Guys Source: Wikipedia Source: Auer Licht
  17. 17. Lighting Phosphors
  18. 18. Lighting Phosphors • • • • Red: Y2O3: Eu Green: (La, Ce, Tb) PO4 Blue: BaMgAl10O17:Eu What we see depends on phosphor quality Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL) Source: GE Lighting
  19. 19. Fluorescent Lighting • Advantages – Higher output • 58 lu/W vs. 13.5 lu/W – Lower operating cost • 10 W vs. 40 W – Longer life • 12,000 hrs vs. 1,000 hrs Data source: GE Lighting • Disadvantages – Slightly higher price – Difficulty dimming – Unappealing light? • Cheap bulb = cheap phosphor – Hg in bulb, special disposal preferred
  20. 20. Automotive Catalysts Source: BASF
  21. 21. Refining Catalysts • Fluid Cracking Catalyst (FCC) – Ideal for heavy crude to make gasoline – Ion-exchanged zeolite (cat litter) – Variable demand • Driving season and heating season • Available crude
  22. 22. Rare Earth Magnets • Hard drive Applications – Voice Coil Motor (VCM) – Spindle motors – 5x108 per year Source: Western Digital
  23. 23. Rare Earth Magnets Applications • Automotive – Hybrids – Electric vehicles Source: Toyota
  24. 24. Recycling • Historically unimportant – Low value – Difficulty • Interest rises and falls with prices • Center of Resource Recovery and Recycling – Eu, Tb and Y oxides from lighting phosphors – Nd and Dy from magnets, mainly hard drives
  25. 25. The Future • Niels Bohr, “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.” • Supply and Demand are dynamic • Overreacting and underreacting are normal – – – – • • • • • Supply Demand Investors Government Finding equilibrium is difficult & takes time Energy conservation is a major driver Flexible companies are most likely to survive Rigid companies are least likely to survive We need to use these materials wisely
  26. 26. Rare Earths Sc Y La Ce Pr Nd Pm Sm Eu Gd Tb Dy Ho Er Tm Yb Lu

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