Excellent piece on rare earths

I wouldn\’t take everything here as gospel:

Rare earths are not only essential for civilian life; the world\’s hi-tech armies also need rare earths for a host of applications from toughening tank armour to guiding smart-bombs and powering night-vision goggles.

Night vision goggles, not so much. Might be used in the glass lenses (pretty much all camera and similar high quality lenses are some 25% La2O3) but the \”powering\” bit is germanium metal. 20 Ohm stuff.

As the solvent-extraction process continues, staff buzz about, monitoring the tanks, and checking Ph levels and flow-rates until they end up with the raw elements in solution, such as liquid neodymium chloride (NdCi3). In the final stage of the process, the pure elements, by now evaporated off into a white powder, are shovelled into casserole-sized ceramic dishes and baked for several hours at high temperatures.

Not pure elements, no, but pure salts. It\’ll almost certainly be RE2O3 there, not the pure metallic element.

But apart from entirely trivial niggles, it\’s a good piece. He\’s certainly got most of the economics right.

Even factoring in recent price rises, the entire rare earths business is forecast to be worth only $3 billion a year by 2014, barely one per cent of today\’s iron ore market. What the world will spend on rare earths this year – $2 billion – is roughly equivalent to what China spends on iron-ore imports in a fortnight. \’There are more than 200 rare earths deposits that are being marketed to the investment community,\’ Chegwidden adds, \’and most of them will never come to anything.\’

In such a small market, where prices can fall as rapidly as they have risen, many of the rare earth mining opportunities being explored begin to look dangerously uneconomic. Rare earths may be abundant, but finding them in sufficiently high concentrations to make their extraction economic is more problematic. One Canadian-listed company, Avalon Rare Metals, which hopes to exploit a large deposit in Canada\’s Northwest Territories, estimated its start-up costs at $900 million, an astronomical sum, say market analysts, given the value of the entire industry.

And there are some 200 different mines and investment schemes being touted at present as well. And sadly, while huge attention is being paid to mining RE concentrates, not enough is being paid to how to get the individual salts and metals out of said concentrates. Except for us of course: we\’ve a grant application in…..got to ride the wave when you can….

1 thought on “Excellent piece on rare earths”

  1. Nothing new in that article what so ever. The fact that the AVL guys has a large capex expense ahead of them is not to say that the project is not economically viable. Even with very conservative price assumptions, the project looks likely to be very profitable.

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