Waxing and waning rare earths

By James Sean Dickson
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.