Friday, June 15, 2012

No. 27: Imports of rare earthes decrease rapidly in the first quarter (June 15, 2012)

Imports of rare earthes from China decreased nearly 70% in the first quarter from the same period of the previous year. According to the Trade Statistics, imports of rare earthes in the first quarter decreased 58% from the same period of the previous year to 3,650 tons, and those from China decreased as much as 69% from the same period of the previous year to 1,894 tons. In fact, imports of rare earthes have been decreasing on a year-on-year basis for the past five months. The drastic decline can be attributed to the stockpiling and innovation of Japanese companies.

Shin-Etsu Chemical, which has 20-30% share in the world high performance magnet market, already introduced a production method that considerably reduces dysprosium consumption. For magnets used in air-conditioners, it is in the process of introducing the magnet that halves dysprosium consumption, and plans to replace the current magnet with this new magnet entirely by next spring. An increasing number of Japanese companies are returning from metal magnet to ferrite magnet. And magnet makers are actively developing new rare earth-free metal magnets.

In the production of high performance magnets, it is necessary to add dysprosium for nearly 8% in weight to increase heat resistance. Hitachi Metals is studying the method to reduce the content to 4% by the technology to distribute dysprosium effectively. The company plans to establish the mass production technology by 2014. At the same time, Japanese companies are diversifying the supply sources of rare earthes. Mining companies in the U.S. and Australia will start to ship cerium and neodymium to Japan within the year.  

The prices of rare earthes are declining in June. Neodymium is currently 150 dollars per kg and dysprosium is 1,100 dollars per kg. They both declined about 70% in price from July of the previous year when they recorded all-time highs. As is often the case, technological development reduces the prices of natural resources considerably.  

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