Cleantech Scores Rare Earth Victory: Neodymium (Magnets) To Be Produced in US

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Green, Minor Metals

Now not all of you know or perhaps care about neodymium (aka magnets) a rare earth metal, which stars as atomic number 60 on your handy dandy periodic table. But if you are involved in the manufacture of motors, loudspeakers, hybrid or electric vehicles, wind power and numerous other technologies, you can shout hooray for this recent announcement by Molycorp Minerals and Arnold Magnetic Technologies announcing a JV to manufacture rare earth metals in the US, according to a recent press release.

Many of these Rare Earth metals, RE’s have multi-tier supply chains, starting with the primary sources of supply (e.g. Mountain Pass), secondary sources of supply (e.g. refining the ores, recycling) and in many cases additional levels of processing.  US dependence on foreign sources for rare earth metals remains a critical issue to the long-term prospects for cleantech within the United States. Neodymium, a metal mined in China, the United States, Brazil, India, Sri Lanka and Australia appears at first blush to be somewhat plentiful given that it is the second most common rare earth element within the earth’s crust. But China dominates the supply of the manufacture of magnets. The joint venture will allow Molycorp to convert the metal into high tech performance permanent magnets needed for so many cleantech applications. The metals will come from Molycorp’s Mountain Pass rare earth operation in California.

Let’s hope this is the first of many upcoming announcements toward the development of US based (or other) rare earth metals.

–Lisa Reisman

Comments (5)

  1. ando nomi says:

    Molycorp produces only a few tons from the tailings of the previous mining operation. They still have no permission for a new production caused by massive environmental problems.
    Maybe the canadian Great Western Mineral can produce earlier from their Utah deposit then Molycorp from Mountain Pass.

  2. Jack Lifton says:

    Whether or not neodymium is the second most common rare earth element in the earth’s crust is totally irrelevant to its accessibility and ease of recoverability from economic ore bodies. Neodymium is, in fact, the thrid most common rare earth metal measured by volume recovered, after cerium and lanthanum.

    As for making rare earth (permanent) magnets, not “metals,’ in the US the problem will indeed be the multi-tier supply chain. The manufacturing of neodymium-iron-boron permanent magnest begins with pure neodymium which is then alloyed by specialty alloy manufacturers to produce a high purity neodymium-iron-boron powder. The magnet maker sinters this powder into the forms required, but I do not know of any magnet maker outside of Asia that has the core competency to purify neodymium or to manufacture the alloy in the powder form required for the sintering. Impurities in the neodymium can be extremely detrimental to obtaining the desired properties of the magnets.

    Molycorp’s product in commerce today is 80:20 neodymium, praseodymium oxide, which must be further separated and reduced to the pure metallic form before it can be used to make magnets. Molycorp is not now doing this process. I do not belieev that Arnold is currently doing this in the USA. It is ironic, if it is true, that Arnold will either have to send the didymium oxide (The previously described neodymium, praseodymium mix) to its Asian operations for refining and alloying or bring the process back here for installing and using.

    When an American company will mine rare earths and make permanent magnets with 100% American content is yet to be determined.

    At least Molycorp’s lanthanum oxide seems to be going to an American maker of fluid cracking catalyst for the oil refining industry. Two weeks ago the US News & World Report had an article in which it described how the contemplated non shipment of lanthanum from China had caused W.R. Grace to look at shutting down its catalyst production leaving the American oil refining industry in big trouble.

    This type of situation will only end when an American rare earth miner is up and running again.

  3. admin says:

    I don’t think Arnold is doing the steps in the middle either.

    To your point, “this type of situation will only end when…” the players in between mining and converting to magnets enter the US market. The miner alone won’t be sufficient. LAR

  4. Sparty says:

    Australia’s Lynas Corp has the world’s richest deposit of rare earths at their Mt Weld deposit. This link: http://www.lynascorp.com/page.asp?category_id=1&page_id=25 takes you to a table of their contents and % distribution of individual elements. As can be seen they have 18.5% Neodymium Oxide and 25% of Lanthanium oxide.

    Australia companies also control just on 50% of the world’s rare earths as can be seen on this page: http://www.australianrareearths.com/current-issues.html (scroll down). Australia is a politically stable country that desperately needs investment into this area and because of the extremely low market caps of the Rare Earth compnaies is very vulnerable to foreign invstors gaining complete dominance. I beleive what jack Lifton has been saying over the last few years is right on the money and unless we wake up very soon the west will have lost its’ pathway to the emerging 21st century electron based economy.

    It was for these reasons that we built http://www.AustralianRareEarths.com so come on down under and visit Australia the lucky energy country.

  5. NeedMagnets says:

    Where can I buy micro size magnets to make micro brushles motors for the RC hobby?

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