Welcome to the new version of European Tribune. It's just a new layout, so everything should work as before - please report bugs here.

How important is neodymium?

by marco Tue May 5th, 2009 at 07:54:56 AM EST

[This was originally written to be a comment under Jérôme's diary The cost of wind, the price of wind, the value of wind, but due to its length, I am posting it as a diary.]

An article in the May issue of The Atlantic makes the case that the mineral neodymium -- "necessary for the lightweight permanent magnets that make Prius motors zoom and for the generators that give wind turbines their electrical buzz" -- may become a bottleneck on wind turbine production. And since "in 2006, nearly all of the world's roughly 137,000-ton supply of rare-earth oxides came from China", according to Irving Mintzer, "a senior adviser to the Potomac Energy Fund who sees shortages stifling clean-tech industry":

"If we don't think this through, we could be trading a troubling dependence on Middle Eastern oil for a troubling dependence on Chinese neodymium."

But I haven't been able to find much about this issue on the web.

Promoted by Nomad


On March 9, an "industry analyst" named Jack Lifton -- referred to in the Atlantic article as by no stretch your standard environmental activist ("I don't give a rat's ass about global warming") -- wrote on the Gerson Lehrman Group website that:

If wind powered turbines are to be used to generate electricity in the USA, and if those turbines are to use the lightest weight most efficient electric generators then each megawatt of capacity will require one tone of neodymium.

There is no significant neodymium production surplus.

Therefore the neodymium would have to be obtained from new production and such production would have to be over and above the total projected demand for 2014 already estimated at 38,000 metric tons, 50% greater than today's production and demand.

The only possible sources for this extra production would be:

1. Lynas Corp (Mt. Weld, Australia),
2. Arafura, Ltd (Nolan's Bore, Australia)
3. Molycorp (Mountain Pass, california)
4. Great Western Minerals Group, Ltd. (Hoidas Lake, saskatchewan, Canada),
5. Avalon Rare Metals (Thor Lake, Northwest Territories, Canada), or
6. Thorium Energy, inc. (Lemhi Pass, Idaho).

Not a single one of the above mining ventures has yet produced a single gram of commercial rare earth metal, although numbers 1 and 2 above are claimed to be 'ready to go," and 3 above was until 2000 a producing mine, which in 1994, for example, was the world's largest single point rare earth mining and refining operation with an annual total production of 20,000 metric tons.

He concludes:

There is no point in getting excited about building the structural components for wind power electricity generation in Michigan or anywhere else if the turbine generators cannot be built due to natural resource limitations.

Perhaps the brilliant minds of Wall Street and Washington should revisit their knee-jerk opposition to American mining, before they make plans for renewable energy sources.

Apparently, this was not the first time he has written about neodymium, as earlier on January 26 Nuclear Green Revolution wrote that:

I have been unable to find independent verification of Lifton's claim that one ton of neodymium or so is required for every MW of wind generating capacity.

and in the comments to the post, "donb" writes in response to another comment:

Jim Baerg said

Something that is unclear from this post is to what extent a shortage of neodymium would affect other sources of electricity.

Wind turbine designers like to use neodymium permanent magnets (of fixed strength) because the generators are relatively small (a few MW compared to over 1000 MW in some large nuke plants) and need to be light weight to reduce demands on the tower structure.

For a ground-based power plant, heavier but much less expensive steel and copper are used to make electromagnets that have controllable strength.

There are additional details. <...>

I won't even get into the uncontrollable output power of wind turbines.

Irving Mintzer, quoted above from the Atlantic article also noted in an NPR interview, on November 21, 2008 that in addition to being dependent on "not so friendly parts of the world" (i.e. "the northeast Sangha [?] region of the Congo, the site of a ten year Civil War that's killed about five and half million people, on the Tibetan plateau in China, and parts of eastern Siberia") for lithium and cobalt for electric car batteries, we may also become dependent on China for neodymium:

Richard Harris [NPR Reporter]: ... A cautionary tale comes from the story of the element neodymium, which is used in those incredibly useful rare earth magnets.

Irving Mintzer: You'll find them in virtually every pair of ear-plugs attached to a teenager in the United States that will allow iPods to walk down our streets.

Richard Harris [NPR Reporter]: Neodymium is also important in hybrid automobiles. Not in the batteries, but in the engines and braking systems.

Now, 95% of neodymium comes from China, and last year, demand within China shot way up.

Irving Mintzer: So the Chinese cut off exports, which caused a modest amount of indigestion in countries like Japan and the United States where auto production of hybrid vehicles was looking increasingly promising.

Richard Harris [NPR Reporter]: Mintzer says the lesson here is not that we should abandon lithium batteries, but that we need to be better prepared to switch to alternatives if the need arises. And unfortunately, the federal government and industry has [sic] focused a huge percentage of battery research solely on lithium-ion technology.

Irving Mintzer: My suggestion is that we give up our desire to pick a single winner in the battery field and begin to look at what the range of possibilities are [sic].

<...>

Richard Harris [NPR Reporter]: Patrick Moseley is president of the Advanced Lead-Acid Battery Consortium. <...> And Moseley says lithium isn't the only game in town. They've developed a lead battery that will work in a hybrid car and is $700-800 cheaper than the nickel-metal hydride batteries used in hybrids today. <...>

But lead probably won't work in plug-in electric cars. Those cars need a lot more batteries than hybrids, and lead is, well, heavy as lead. So Moseley says some companies are at least poking around with some more out-there technologies, like zinc-air, sodium nickel chloride, and other exotic chemistries.

Moseley: I think it's probably a wise government that pursues more than one line of research.

Richard Harris [NPR Reporter]: The question now is whether that new technology will be available for fast enough, if the lithium-ion juggernaut runs into some sort of trouble.

And so should we also be as concerned about the supply of neodymium? Are there alternatives to it? Or is there enough outside of China to sustain a continued expansion of industry that is dependent on neodymium?

Display:
that iPods could walk down our streets?

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Mon May 4th, 2009 at 03:26:23 PM EST
Great diary (comments and research).  More than I thought I would ever want to learn about neodymium, but well worth the reading.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Tue May 5th, 2009 at 09:37:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Standard Operating Procedure Manual: Section 392: Hints on how to talk down technologies.

  1. Identify a constraint on the current form of the technology about which we can build a scare story.

  2. Lather, rinse, repeat.

It's Yellow Peril time.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon May 4th, 2009 at 03:45:32 PM EST
with regards to cobalt and lithium cobalt oxide.

Here's some Yellow Peril from the Baotou National Rare-Earth Hi-Tech Industrual Development Zone website:

In 1992, Chinese President Deng Xiaoping pointed out, "There is oil in the Middle East; there is rare earth in China...." That same year, the State Council approved the establishment of the Baotou Rare Earth Hi-tech Industrial Development Zone. During his 1999 visit to Baotou, President Jiang Zemin wrote, "Improve the development and applications of rare earth, and change the resource advantage into economic superiority." Then President Jiang repeated the strategic importance of developing China's rare earth industry, which has caught worldwide attention.

The reason why rare earth, a small industry with annual consumption of only 75,000 tons REO and a market value below US$100 million, has been given attention by Chinese leaders at all levels is due to its uses in modern hi-tech industries because of its special chemical and physical properties. As a matter of fact, rare earth has been listed in the category of strategic elements in many countries, such as the USA and Japan.

[bold in original]

But Deng Xiaoping was too modest, at least with regards to neodymium, for here is what the author of the Atlantic article Lisa Margonelli had to say about the Chinese supply of that mineral in a radio interview a couple of weeks ago:

What I think the big difference between neodymium and oil is that there are 160 kinds of traded crude oil on the market and they come from all over the world and you can always kind of swap one out for the other, but we've only got one source for neodymium at the moment.

Earlier in the interview, Margonelli explained:

Each hybrid vehicle requires one to two kilograms of neodymium.  The problem is that right now, more than 97% of the world's output of neodymium comes from China [though she later says that the USA's reserves of neodymium are about half of China's].  And China has been cutting back its exports, partly because they want to develop their own permanent magnet industry, and because they're thinking of this as kind of a long-term strategic thing.

So they have been cutting back their exports.  There was a bit of a panic in the summer of 2007 when neodymium prices went up to about $60 a kilogram.  And everyone freaked out and started realizing, "Wow, all this stuff is coming from China.  What are we going to do if either China doesn't increase the amount that it's producing or they start limiting who they sell them to?"

Margonelli seems to have exaggerated a bit with that $60/kg figure, but there was indeed a price spike in the summer of 2007:

NeoDymium Price Trend 2002.1-2008.7

Why the price of neodymium dropped just as quickly as it went up in the summer of 2007, I have no idea.  Did the Chinese restore their exports to previous levels again?

Anyway, there is some good news: U.S. mining company MolyCorp Minerals, LLC has recently started producing neodymium-praseodymium at its Mountain Pass, California mine.  According to Jack Lifton on the Gerson Lehrman Group site:

It is not clear whether or not Mountain Pass will be allowed by California regulators to reopen its mining operation  due to environmentalist resistance. But the rare earth ore processing plant is in operation, although at a low level, and even now produces neodymium-praseodymium materials for magnet use.

What's more, MolyCorp has Goldman Sachs backing them financially (at least for now) and is trying to make neodymium a security issue:

MolyCorp was purchased and privatized from Chevron Mining in 2008 by a group of investors with specialized knowledge of rare earth mining, which was backed by Goldman Sachs.

<...>

There is a movement in Washington to reconsider the mining of strategic and critical metals within the US as a security issue for the armed services. This may be the hook that MolyCorp is using to get Goldman Sachs to finance Mountain Pass, and the vertical integration of MolyCorp through the acquisition of GWMG's magnet alloys production capabilities may be key to this strategy.

So with financial interests on Wall Street and national security interests in Washington behind it, the push to produce "Whole Foods, free-range, U.S. produced neodymium" on a larger scale in the USA may make some headway.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Mon May 4th, 2009 at 05:36:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That price graph conveniently stops at the top of the commodity price rampup. All commodity prices have crashed since then.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue May 5th, 2009 at 06:23:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On the price of neodymium and the state of the U.S. permanent magnet industry (as of last September)

The price of rare earth oxides and metals declined significantly in the 1990s and early 2000s, which was primarily due to the competition between Chinese companies. But since late 2005, neodymium prices have increased significantly. This is primarily due to the strong demand worldwide, mining quotas, active enforcement of environmental policies and shutting down offenders in China. The production of rare earth metals elsewhere has become more attractive due to price hikes, although China may still remain as the lowest cost producer in the near future. Global demand of rare earth oxide is estimated at about 100,000 - 120,000 metric tons in 2007, and forecasted to grow at about 9% per year through 2012. Supply shortfalls are predicted in the near future as domestic consumption in China could exceed supply in 10 years. [Would be nice to find some forecasts on neodymium specifically, besides Jack Lifton's on the Gerson Lehrman Group website and quoted in the diary.]

<...>

The permanent magnet industry [in the USA] has been declining in recent years due to a number of reasons, including:  

(1) Low-cost magnets from China squeezed the profitability of U.S producers;
(2) Many customers for permanent magnets have relocated to Asia. (It makes sense for the magnet producers to be closer to their customers);
(3) The majority of rare earth metals come from China; Chinese magnet producers are close to the inexpensive raw materials as well as low-cost labor force and engineering talent;
(4) The quality of permanent magnets made in China has improved significantly;
(5) Industry consolidation.

<...>

4. Value-Added Business in the Permanent
Magnet Industry

Value-added magnet business, such as the production of assemblies and or subsystems, is doing well in the United States. Some magnet producers and fabricators offer design services using finite element analysis, such as Dexter, Arnold and EEC. This trend will continue because offshore producers may not be able to provide this service effectively.

5. Permanent Magnet Applications

Some major magnet applications are related to more efficient motors and generators.  Therefore we could not start the discussion of future permanent magnet markets without mentioning the oil market.

Figure 3. NYME crude oil futures in the last 12 months [2]

The crude oil futures went up significantly in the last 12 months and are currently above $140 per barrel. Figure 3 shows crude oil futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) in the last 12 months.  Consumers felt the pinch at the gas pumps. Renewable energy, therefore, has become a hot topic and a profitable business. Wind power, hydropower, ocean wave and solar power are receiving more attention. These are also called clean energy because there is almost no environmental pollution.

<...>

Wind Generators

Some wind power generators use permanent magnets. The rapid development of wind generation capacity is also related to current high oil prices and the green energy movement. Figure 5 shows a 21st century wind farm in the California Central Valley and offshore wind turbines near Copenhagen [4].

The wind power industry is in an era of substantial growth, both globally and in the United States. About 20,000 MW of wind power capacity was added in 2007 worldwide, the highest volume achieved in a single year. GE Wind was the dominant producer of wind turbines in the U.S. market in 2007. Other major players in this field include Vestas, Siemens, Gamesa, and Mitsubishi.

bringing the cumulative total to 16,904 MW, according to a report from U.S. Department of Energy [5]. Figure 6 shows the annual capacity and cumulative U.S. wind power capacity.

Figure 6. Annual capacity and cumulative capacity of U.S. wind power capacity

"Current Status of Permanent Magnet Industry in the United States" [PDF!]
M.H. Walmer, J.F. Liu and P.C. Dent

Original manuscript, Proceedings of 20th International Workshop on
RARE EARTH PERMANENT MAGNETS AND THEIR APPLICATIONS, Sept. 8-10, 2008, Crete, Greece



Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Tue May 5th, 2009 at 10:36:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
courtesy of Lisa Margonelli, prodded by Leonard Lopate, in the their interview on WNYC:

Leonard Lopate: You said that the California place --

Lisa Margonelli: Mountain Pass.

Leonard Lopate: Mountain Pass -- has kind of cleaned up the area.  There was a series of radioactive waste leaks at the Mountain Pass a decade ago, wasn't there?

Lisa Margonelli: There was, there was.

Leonard Lopate:  So is this dangerous?  Do the Chinese mines have any environmental safeguards?

Lisa Margonelli:  Well, um, I haven't seen them.  I think we can assume that they are not paying -- Mountain Pass is going to pay $2.4 million a year for ongoing environmental things, and they've spent more than twenty million dollars in kind of clean up and containment issues on the site.  And I think we can assume that they're not doing that in China.  But I have not personally been to the, you know, neodymium producers there.

Hearing that last part reminded me of a siegel's diary Making the Green Economy Dirty.

Leonard Lopate:  Now last week in New Jersey, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar got a lot of attention for saying that wind-mills off the eastern seaboard could eventually generate enough electricity to replace nearly all the coal-fired power-plants in this country.  And I'm assuming that those wind-farms would require even more neodymium.  We're giving China an awful lot of power with this, aren't we?

Lisa Margonelli:  Well, we would be, if we don't develop things ourselves or if we don't anticipate where this is going.  I think that our, you know, our framework in the U.S. is really around oil, and as people sort of come to a realization that we don't have much power in the oil market, ... we tend to think, Okay, if it's not oil, it's going to be okay.  And when we look at new sources of energy or new ways of designing cars, our concern about supply chains only reaches to the fuel or to the things we know.  We don't really think about, Wow, what's in the batteries?  what's in the motors?  what are all the other supply chains that are attached to this new technology?  And we're not really thinking that through.

Leonard Lopate:  But the Chinese seem to be.

Lisa Margonelli:  Yes, and in fact they have been thinking it through since the late 80's.  Deng Xiaoping famously compared China's wealth in rare earth minerals to the Middle East's wealth in oil.

Leonard Lopate:  Well, they also expanded control of their mining operations in Africa, looking for things like cobalt and lithium.  Those minerals are also important to green technologies, aren't they?  

Lisa Margonelli: Um-hum, yup.  They're very important, and um, China has also been very aggressive about developing a battery industry and bringing that cobalt from Africa to China for processing.  And so definitely China is really taking a long-term strategic look at this, and the U.S. is kind of coming late to the party in terms of really thinking about this in a strategic way.

You know, one thing when I was in China talking to people who design cars there and who were thinking about green industry, they said, "Well, you know, 12% of the world owns cars, and 88% of the world doesn't own cars.  And that's where the real market is.  We can't sell more cars to people in the U.S., we need to sell them to this 88%. And the thing that's limiting from buying cars is pollution.  So if you can eliminate the pollution at the tail-pipe through alternative fuels, then you have access to this massive, massive market."

And that was kind of the way they were looking at i -- this was back in 2004 -- this really kind of long-range, strategic concept that you know is really just beginning to dawn on us in the U.S.  But at the same time in the U.S. we can't -- ...  We need to think about this in a more sophisticated way. ... We need to be thinking about these cars in a way that we can actually have control over where some of the resources come from.

Leonard Lopate:  But you're also saying that in creating these environmental products, we are also doing some damage to the environment, because mining neodymium does have its downside.  Does the environmentalist community, is it aware of that or are they very much in support of using more neodymium?

Lisa Margonelli:  Um, I haven't seen much amongst the environmentalist community, much concern about neodymium.  There's some concern about cobalt because of the human rights issues in Africa.  Neodymium, though, was something that was a big deal tens years ago when the spills happened at Mountain Pass.  But when I called around amongst the local environmentalist community, people said, "Oh, that place!  You know, we haven't heard anything from them for a long time."  And so I think that this is this issue that's just coming into people's consciousness.  And to my knowledge, there isn't a big reaction against it yet.

But I think it also points to the fact that we're going to have to make trade-offs in moving away from oil.  It's not going to be a simple green future with daisies on the side of the road.  We're going to have to decide, Okay, we're going to have to drill somewhere, or we're going to have to mine this.  Or --

Leonard Lopate:  Or we're going to have to cause troubles when we make ethanol, which has its other environmental negative effects.



Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Mon May 4th, 2009 at 06:33:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
marco: Hearing that last part reminded me of a siegel's diary Making the Green Economy Dirty.

Correct link is here.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Mon May 4th, 2009 at 06:38:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Just found this radio interview on the Leonard Lopate Show (WNYC) with the Atlantic author Lisa Margonelli.

Recycling

One commenter writes:

... Here's one alternative: recycle ALL of the speakers and other electronic equipment found in stereos, cars, iPods, cell phones, computers, etc. as they will have varying levels of neodymium-based magnetic materials.

In fact, Margonelli ends her article by noting that, "To protect U.S. industry from supply shocks", Jack "I don't give a rat's ass about global warming" Lifton:

has called on the government to mandate the recycling of strategic minerals. A "bottle bill" for cars, long dismissed as an environmentalist's dream, is just one possible outcome.

Reserves

It turns out that the "95% of neodymium comes from China" point refers to the amount of neodymium being produced, not the amount of neodymium available for mining in reserves.  However, in fact, Margonelli, in the radio interview, clarifies that:

In terms of reserves, we have quite a bit.  We just don't mine it out.  Our [i.e. the U.S.A.'s] reserves are about half of what China's are.  And Australia has some.  I believe there's also some in Russia.  And what's happened though is that the cheapest producer has taken over, and that's China at the moment.  So we'll have to be prepared for a premium for more expensive minerals.

Earlier in the interview she refers to "fairly expensive neodymium, with a lot of U.S. environmental safeguards, on the assumption that people will be willing to kind of pay for like the Whole Foods, free-range, U.S. produced neodymium".

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Mon May 4th, 2009 at 04:22:32 PM EST
wikipedia


Although it belongs to "rare earth metals," neodymium is not rare at all. It constitutes 38 ppm of the Earth's crust.

I'm pretty sure it's not one tonne per turbine

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon May 4th, 2009 at 04:22:59 PM EST
Jerome a Paris:
wikipedia

Although it belongs to "rare earth metals," neodymium is not rare at all. It constitutes 38 ppm of the Earth's crust.

I'm pretty sure it's not one tonne per turbine

Maybe not.  But the Wikipedia article omits a point that is made in the Atlantic article:

Rare earths are actually fairly common. What's rare is finding deposits that can be mined profitably, in part because most contain radioactive thorium.  Relatively speaking, Mountain Pass--whose rare-earth deposits were discovered in 1949--is not too radioactive, and through the 1950s the ore was mostly used to make flints for lighters. <...>

... in the early 1990s, cheaper Chinese rare earths began eating into the mine's market share. <...> As Chinese ore came onto the market, the price fell from $11,700 a ton in 1992 to $7,430 a ton by 1996 (in constant dollars). <...>

Mountain Pass couldn't compete on price alone--especially given the mine's growing ecological costs. In 1998, chemical processing at the mine was stopped after a series of wastewater leaks. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of water carrying radioactive waste spilled into and around Ivanpah Dry Lake. ...

Still, the CEO of Molycorp, which owns the Mountain Pass mine in California, which it claims to have cleaned up and made environmentally safe now, is optimistic:

... Smith's effort to turn Mountain Pass into an environmentally friendly producer--call it the Whole Foods of premium free-range sustainable neodymium--comes with costs his Chinese competitors don't have to pay: for starters, $2.4 million a year on environmental monitoring and compliance. Will carmakers really be willing to pay more for local minerals and homegrown magnets? "Absolutely," Smith says, noting that the mine's historic customers in the U.S. and Japan have given their assurances.


Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Mon May 4th, 2009 at 10:47:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Another relevant fact from the wiki article:

Neodymium - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Neodymium is never found in nature as the free element; rather, it occurs in ores such as monazite sand ((Ce,La,Th,Nd,Y)PO4) and bastnäsite ((Ce,La,Th,Nd,Y)(CO3)F) that contain small amounts of all the rare earth metals. Neodymium can also be found in Misch metal; it is difficult to separate it from other rare earth elements.
The problem with rare earth metals is that they are all chemically very similar.

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 5th, 2009 at 04:13:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
marco:
Jerome a Paris:
wikipedia

Although it belongs to "rare earth metals," neodymium is not rare at all. It constitutes 38 ppm of the Earth's crust.

I'm pretty sure it's not one tonne per turbine

Maybe not.

But the point is a valid answer to your question in the diary:
is there enough outside of China to sustain a continued expansion of industry that is dependent on neodymium
You quote
Relatively speaking, Mountain Pass--whose rare-earth deposits were discovered in 1949--is not too radioactive, and through the 1950s the ore was mostly used to make flints for lighters. <...>

... in the early 1990s, cheaper Chinese rare earths began eating into the mine's market share. <...> As Chinese ore came onto the market, the price fell from $11,700 a ton in 1992 to $7,430 a ton by 1996 (in constant dollars). <...>

Mountain Pass couldn't compete on price alone--especially given the mine's growing ecological costs. In 1998, chemical processing at the mine was stopped after a series of wastewater leaks. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of water carrying radioactive waste spilled into and around Ivanpah Dry Lake. ...

two questions spring to mind. One, what is the environmental impact of Chinese neodymium ore? Second, is dependence on Chinese ore only a consequence of the lower price (probably entirely due to labor and envoronmental costs in the West)?

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 5th, 2009 at 04:42:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have no idea, as I don't know what the mining process of Nd entails and how widespread it is.

On the second, probably not because there was already Nd mining before China began to expand Nd mining, increasing supply. But those lower prices, due to Chinese mining, do put a stop on Nd mining elsewhere. The mines listed in the diary above are currently not on-line because their current ore model is simply not profitable, partly because of environmental and labour regulations, but I wouldn't be surprised if the grade of the ore is lower as well.

But by all of this, I'd guess that building more wind turbines (if they really need that much Nd) would only stimulate industry elsewhere around the world.

by Nomad on Tue May 5th, 2009 at 05:14:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Presumably the process involves Mischmetal processing:
Historically, mischmetal was prepared from monazite, an anhydrous phosphate of the light lanthanides and thorium. The ore was "cracked" by reaction at high temperature either with concentrated sulfuric acid, or with sodium hydroxide. Thorium was removed by taking advantage of its weaker basicity relative to the trivalent lanthanides, the radioactive radium isotope daughter products of thorium were precipitated out using entrainment in barium sulfate, and the remaining lanthanides were converted to the chloride. The resulting "Rare Earth Chloride" (Hexahydrate), sometimes known as "Lanthanide Chloride", was the major commodity chemical of the rare earth industry. By careful heating, preferably with ammonium chloride or in an atmosphere of hydrogen chloride, the hexahydrate could be dehydrated to provide the anhydrous chloride. Electrolysis of the molten anhydrous chloride (admixed with other anhydrous halide to improve the melt behavior) led to the formation of molten Mischmetal, which would then be cast into ingots. Any samarium content of the ore tended not to be reduced to the metal, but accumulated in the molten halide, from which it could later be profitably isolated. Monazite-derived Mischmetal typically was about 48% cerium, 25% lanthanum, 17% neodymium, and 5% praseodymium, with the balance being the other lanthanides. When bastnaesite started being processed for rare earth content in about 1965, it too was converted to a version of rare earth chloride, and on to Mischmetal. This version was higher in lanthanum and lower in neodymium.

Currently (2007), the high demand for neodymium has made it profitable to remove all of the heavier lanthanides and neodymium (and sometimes all of the praseodymium as well) from the natural-abundance lanthanide mixture for separate sale, and to include only La-Ce-Pr or La-Ce in the most economical forms of Mischmetal. The light lanthanides are so similar in their metallurgical properties, that any application for which the original composition would have been suitable, would be equally well served by these truncated mixtures. The traditional "Rare Earth Chloride", as a commodity chemical, was also used to extract the individual rare earths by companies that did not wish to process the ores directly. Mischmetal is typically priced at less than 10 dollars per kilogram, and the underlying rare earth chloride mixtures are typically less than 5 dollars per kilogram (as of 2007).



Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 5th, 2009 at 05:21:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
From French Chemical Society, edited by myself after a google translation to clear things up.

Rhône-Poulenc process of separation: Rhone-Poulenc, is the world No 1 rare earth producer, Rare earths are separated using a continuous separation process by extraction with solvents.

Solubilization: in the Rhone-Poulenc plant in La Rochelle (17), monazite (or any other rare earth minerals), after grinding, is attacked by soda (NaOH)to 60% by mass to 180 ° C, autoclave for about 3 hours. The formed Trisodium phosphate (Na3PO4) solution is removed with hot water.  Hydroxides of rare earths and thorium, after filtration and washing are dissolved in nitric acid.

Step 2: Rare earth separation / thorium-uranium / impurities: by liquid-liquid separation units.
Thorium nitrate (99.9%) and uranium nitrate are produced at this stage. Effluents are radioactive and are treated and the residues are stored. Until 1991, these wastes, low-level radioactive, were stored on the ANDRA La Hague site (for France) near the plant for the reprocessing of spent fuel at La Hague (see Uranium). Since this site is now saturated they are now stored temporarily in Cadarache.
Faced with the difficulties in storing such waste, Rhone-Poulenc decided to change its supply of ore. Instead of monazite imported from Australia, since late 1994, the ore used (bastnasite) is pretreated at the place of extraction (Bayun Oba, China and Mountain Pass, United States) before extraction of rare earths to La Rochelle.

Step 3 Separation of rare earths: again with solvent extraction units, lanthanum (at 99,995% purity) is extracted, and cerium (99.5%), the DIDYME (Nd-Pr alloy composed of Pr and 98% to 95% Nd) [note: the very names for Pr and Nd comes from ancient greek "twins" (dyme), illustrating the difficulties in separating them. Indeed, they were considered at first as only one element], samarium / europium (separated into 98% Sm and Eu 99.99%), the gadolinium / Terbium (separate then 99.99% Gd and Tb in 99.9%), and all other rare earths, yttrium is obtained, after extraction, 99.99%.

During the various extractions, many types of solvents are used: acid di (2-ethylhexyl) phosphate, tri (n-butyl) phosphate, quaternary ammonium salts, carboxylic acids ... In the factory of La Rochelle, more than 1 500 steps of mixer-settlers treatment are used.

Rare earths are separated delivered in the form of oxides or salts, the purity is, in general, expressed in mass compared to other rare earths, regardless of any other impurities present.

Step 4: Metals and especially neodymium, yttrium and terbium, are prepared by calciothermie to over 1 000 ° C, from the fluoride in the case of neodymium according to the reaction:

2NdF3 + 3 Ca ---> 2Nd + 3CaF2

These operations are metallurgical, Rhône-Poulenc, conducted in the United States, Phoenix (Arizona)

General info:Purification/extraction process is long and costly. Difficulties will increase with radioactive ore content, and decrease if the use can make fit of low purity alloys.

There is an obvious pro-Rhône Poulenc spin in this text, but I don't think it will affect the general information about extraction steps.

A free fox in a free henhouse!

by Xavier in Paris on Tue May 5th, 2009 at 09:16:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Note that there are efforts underway, primarily in India, to make thorium valuable by switching the nuclear industry to a thorium fuel cycle.

So the mingling with thorium is not necessarily a drawback. More deposits become economically recoverable with co-extraction.

Pierre

by Pierre on Tue May 5th, 2009 at 04:43:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Plus, if the Thorium becomes a useful byproduct, the amount of radioactive waste water from metal extraction is greatly reduced.

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 5th, 2009 at 04:44:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Neodymium is not currently used in generators for the majority of wind turbines, though the process is beginning.  The vast majority of turbines use doubly-fed induction generators using both traditional and innovative copper wiring.

Neodymium is often used in gearless and hybrid turbines, particularly in the Chinese market through Goldwind's acquisition of 70% of German design firm Vensys.  The Multibrid offshore turbine uses a permanent magnet generator, not certain if neodymium is used.

Most standard configuration turbines do not use permanent magnet generators at all.  An exception is the Clipper 2.5 MW turbine, where the main shaft is split into four load paths to four smaller permanent magnet generators.  Again, unclear if neodymium is used.

it is clear that one growing design trend in the industry is the use of permanent magnet generators, thus there will likely be more use of neodymium in the future.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaďs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Tue May 5th, 2009 at 01:28:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It would seem that Margonelli exaggerates, if not misleads, in her characterization of neodymium, at least with respect to the current state of things:

neodymium, the pixie dust of green tech -- necessary for the lightweight permanent magnets that make Prius motors zoom and for the generators that give wind turbines their electrical buzz.

-- the word in contention being "necessary".  (See Migeru's comment below.)

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Tue May 5th, 2009 at 09:43:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The point here is not how much neodymium there is, but the rate at which it can be extracted.

A bit like oil - you should be familiar with the 'peak neodymium' argument.

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 5th, 2009 at 04:25:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe it's one tonne of neodymium ore per turbine... At 38ppm, that would be 38g per turbine. Of course, 'ore' is by definition richer than the average of the Earth's crust.

Anyway, at 7.4-7.5 g/cm3, a tonne of Nd2Fe14B would have the volume of a 70-cm sphere which doesn't look all that big, especially relative to a gearbox.

We're talking about a magnet capable of generating power in the Megawatt range by turning in the 1-Hertz range...

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 5th, 2009 at 04:37:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Magnet - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
'Rare earth' (lanthanoid) elements have a partially occupied f electron shell (which can accommodate up to 14 electrons.) The spin of these electrons can be aligned, resulting in very strong magnetic fields, and therefore these elements are used in compact high-strength magnets where their higher price is not a concern. The most common types of rare earth magnets are samarium-cobalt and neodymium-iron-boron (NIB) magnets.
From this description there is nothing peculiar about neodymium among rare earth metals that makes it unique for making permanent magnets.

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 5th, 2009 at 04:24:12 AM EST
Neodymium magnet - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
They are the strongest type of permanent magnets made.
Not critically important, it would seem.

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 5th, 2009 at 04:43:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Seems you are right:

Neodymium magnet - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[Neodymium magnets ] have replaced marginally weaker and significantly more heat-resistant samarium-cobalt magnets in most applications, due mainly to their lower cost.

(my bold)

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Tue May 5th, 2009 at 09:26:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Can't address the Prius (may be a size constraint) but generators were made long before neodymium magnets.  Worst case is you use field windings.
by tjbuff (timhess@adelphia.net) on Tue May 5th, 2009 at 09:30:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm told Vacuumschmelze is a leading manufacturer of these magnets. Maybe there's more info on their website (I'v done a cursory search, but they may be more in the pdf docs).

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue May 5th, 2009 at 09:12:41 AM EST
marco - Comments - How important is neodymium?
Richard Harris [NPR Reporter]: Mintzer says the lesson here is not that we should abandon lithium batteries, but that we need to be better prepared to switch to alternatives if the need arises. And unfortunately, the federal government and industry has [sic] focused a huge percentage of battery research solely on lithium-ion technology.

if china is the middle east of neodymium, bolivia may be the saudi arabia of lithium:

In the rush to build the next generation of hybrid or electric cars, a sobering fact confronts both automakers and governments seeking to lower their reliance on foreign oil: almost half of the world's lithium, the mineral needed to power the vehicles, is found here in Bolivia -- a country that may not be willing to surrender it so easily. ...

See also comments about the world's supply of lithium in gmoke's Electric Cars for Everyone - Tomorrow diary.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Thu May 7th, 2009 at 01:49:38 AM EST
the federal government and industry

Is that the U.S or the German federal governemt? For wind turbines surely it's the latter that is more relevant?...

by gk (g k quattro due due sette "at" gmail.com) on Thu May 7th, 2009 at 02:13:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
China, Japan on collision coure over rare-earth metals | The Australian
Don Burbar, the chief executive of Avalon Rare Metals, said: "The crux of the matter is that there are now a lot of technologies that can't work without rare earths, and China is currently in effective control of the global supply. China has positioned itself to retain control, and meanwhile politicians around the world do not appreciate how the supply side of green technology works."

<...>

Kazunori Fukuda, deputy director of the non-ferrous metals division at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, said: "If the Chinese export quota limits were the reality of what comes into Japan each year, we would be even more worried than we already are. All green technology depends on rare-earth metals and all global trade in rare earth depends on China."

Ginya Adachi, from the Japanese Rare Earth Association, said that China's dominance of rare earths would serve the developed world with a rude shock about global trade: Japan, America and Europe must now realise that some markets are not real, but political. But he added: "The Chinese Government wants full control but it doesn't have it. It is not in control of the rare-earths market in the same way that OPEC is in control of oil. Local miners will sell even if the government tries to control the price or the quotas."

The Japanese Government has begun looking for alternative supply sources in Vietnam and elsewhere; rare earths are not as rare as the name suggests. There are potential supplies around the world, but prospective miners in Australia and the US are experiencing financing difficulties and as soon as new facilities have emerged in Asia and elsewhere, Chinese companies have quickly become majority investors.



Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Sun May 31st, 2009 at 10:48:35 PM EST


Display:
Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]