PORTLAND, Ore. -- Despite China's virtual corner on the market of rare earths, demand is skyrocketing along with investments in new mines worldwide that has some pundits talking of a "rare earth bubble."
The U.S., Canada, Australia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and even Afghanistan all have strategic efforts underway to reopen rare earth mines, many of which will be producing ore within five years.
According to BCC Research (Wellesley, Mass.), the global market for rare earths will almost double in the next five years, starting at just over 158,200 metric tons in 2011 and growing to 258,000 metric tons by 2016, a compound growth rate of over 10 percent.
Of the six major market segments, energy and electronics are the smallest, predicted to grow from 27,300 and 12,000 metric tons in 2011, respectively, to 62,000 and 21,300 metric tons by 2015, compound growth rates of nearly 18- and 12-percent, respectively (see figure below).
According to BCC, rare earths consumption has risen by a factor of three over the last 15 years, but mostly from the other major sectors -- metallurgy, glass/ceramics, chemical catalysts -- whereas high levels of research and development of new applications requiring rare earths in energy and electronics sectors will increasingly drive worldwide demand over the next five years.
Between activating dormant mines and recycling from discarded products, there are many sources of critical rare earth metals. Now that China is seeking to capture the revenue potential of their assets, other countries with reserves (Sweden, USA, Kyrgyzstan, Canada) will be motivated to ramp up production. It sounds like a reprise of the experience with oil and OPEC. When a dominant supplier starts demanding higher money, prices get pushed up to their true worldwide market value.
I have read EETimes for 20 years, paper (basement full of old copies, much to my wife's chagrin) and electronic, and it stuns me that nobody in any of the articles has specifically mentioned their (rare earths) absolute necessity in hard disk drives - the magnets that are used with voice coils to move the head actuators ... no access to rare earth based magnets means no hard drives ... get it ... ?
Well, with demand increasing and supplies at a fairly low level (just recently, we were talking shortages), it should be expected that the financial investment would be made in reopening existing mines and opening new ones. The question then is will the supply be enough and soon enough, or will it actually exceed demand?
Yesterday I saw a lot of stores in the mall are selling the popular toy "Bucky Ball" which is a made of 125 rare earth beads. It was a fun toy but then I thought about a this article. What a waste of this valuable resource.
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