The international rare earths
industry continues to go through a period of upheaval.
Just a few years ago, the dominant
issue was potential new mine supply from outside China, but the
focus has now shifted to demand for rare earths, and
particularly how China will meet its ever-expanding appetite,
notably for heavy rare earths.
As the 8th
International Rare Earths Conference convenes in Hong
Kong this month, there will be much for delegates to
While global economic uncertainty
prevails, metals markets are generally under pressure.
However, demand patterns for rare
earths are not so clear, as some of the groups metals
have the potential to increase market share in applications
such as wind energy and electric vehicles, while others are
supplying more mature sectors.
Last years conference saw
much debate about the rising importance of heavy rare earths
with a focus on those producers which would be able to meet the
forecast gap in demand.
Heavy rare earths remain a
discussion at this years rare earths
In 2012, this again looks likely to
be a key topic for discussion, particularly as potential users
actively look to reduce their reliance on rare earths to avoid
any of the potential supply glitches and price spikes seen in
Services, which is presenting at the conference in Hong
Kong, suggests that it now makes little sense to treat the rare
earths group as a single commodity. The idea of a rare
earths market does not exist, and to make sense of the
future supply-demand picture, it is necessary to look more
closely at the applications each metal is used in.
The dominant metals, accounting for
nearly 70% of global demand for rare earth oxides, remain
cerium and lanthanum.
These two metals also dominate
production: out of a forecast 110,000 tonnes of official world
production this year (85-90% coming from China), cerium oxide
will make up just under 45,000 tonnes, with lanthanum oxide
accounting for a little under 30,000 tonnes.
We are dealing with 15
elements that occur in nature in varying ratios which are
rarely consistent with the requirements of the market,
Focus on magnets,
A section of this years
conference has been given over to looking at the magnet market,
which remains the main driver for neodymium demand. Demand for
NdFeB magnets is forecast to grow by around 9% during the next
eight years, with accelerated growth after 2016.
Roskill expects the supply of
neodymium to remain tight until 2014-15 when new material
should come on stream. However, questions remain over whether
this will be sufficient to assure potential users of
NdFeB magnets for wind turbines and electric vehicles that
feedstock is sustainable.
Concerns about high prices and
availability could limit the extent to which NdFeB permanent
magnet direct drives are adopted for wind turbines.
In the phosphor sector, heavy rare
earths are not vulnerable to substitution in the medium term as
research into alternatives has not been successful.
Demand for rare earths in
phosphors is forecast to grow at 6-8% to 2017. Much of this
growth will be related to continuing demand for RE phosphors in
fluorescent lamps, Roskill said.
Developments in China will again
remain a major topic at this conference. Demand will continue
to grow at the expense of the rest of the world and is expected
to exceed 70% of total consumption by 2019-2020.
China is the largest market
for rare earths and metals and demand is increasingly from
higher-value applications, such as magnets and phosphors,
rather than lower-value applications in metallurgy and
agriculture, Roskill said.
This means that the likely
shortages of heavy rare earths and possibly neodymium will also
occur in China. At this stage, it is difficult to know how this
will affect Chinese government policies, but is certain to be
the subject of much speculation.
Could it lead to more
restrictions in the supply of rare earths to the rest of the
world? Roskill asked.
With little significant supply of
heavy rare earths from outside China before 2016-17, companies
dependent on a secure supply of dysprosium, terbium and
europium look set to rely even more on the developing dynamics
of the rare earths industry in the south of China.
8th International Rare Earths
Conference, Shangri-la Hotel Kowloon, Hong Kong, November 13-15
2012, organised by Roskill Information Services Ltd and Metal
Events Ltd. For more information visit