Waxing and waning rare earths
Published: Friday, 27 November 2015
Europium, one of the higher priced heavy rare earths, is unlikely to see a rebound in demand as its main end market, phosphors, loses ground to LED lighting.
On the sidelines of the BC-GS conference, Mark Saxon, CEO of
TSX-V-listed Tasman Metals Ltd, told IM that
the reason for declining dysprosium value as a proportion of
total value consumption in rare earths has been caused by
cost-efficiency measures taken by magnet producers.
"Manufacturers have shifted from putting dysprosium
throughout their magnets to just on the outside, giving the
same effect," Saxon told IM. Dysprosium is
used to prevent high strength rare earth permanent magnets from
losing their magnetism, or denaturing, at high temperatures, a
key requirement in electric motors and generators.
He added that there is little hope of a revival of fortunes
for europium pricing, owing to the element’s
demand structure. Europium phosphors are currently used in
fluorescent bulbs, but these are now being replaced by highly
efficient light emitting diode (LED) bulbs, which require far
smaller volumes of europium.
LEDs previously struggled in consumer markets because of the
cool temperature of light that they produce, but this effect
has now largely been overcome. Lower running costs, combined
with the new generation of warmer light-producing LEDs, has led
to an increased switch-over rate.
Saxon told IM that the only direction in
which europium prices could now head is down, in the absence of
substantial alternative sources of demand for the element.