RARE EARTH METALS
Rare Earth Metals have special and unique properties that make them essential for many applications. The majority of current production (90%+) is from China and this is now subject to export restriction. The opportunity for Orion is that customers in the US, Japan and Europe are seeking secure long term supplies from friendly jurisdictions and this has lead to substantial price increases.
The 17 Rare Earth Metals encompass 15 elements known as the Lanthanides in the Periodic Table and two other elements with similar properties, Scandium and Yttrium. The Lanthanides usually appear in deposits that contain all 15 elements in various percentages. Some of the higher valued elements represent less than 1% of the overall Rare Earth Oxides in most ore deposits and there are few known economic deposits in production.
Rare Earth Elements are classified as LIGHT and HEAVY depending on their respective positions in the Periodic Table:-
LIGHT REEs are Lanthanum, Cerium, Praseodymium & Neodymium; and HEAVY REEs are Samarium, Europium, Gadolinium, Terbium, Dysprosium, and Yttrium with more rare members Holmium, Erbium, Thulium, Ytterbium and Lutetium. The Heavy REEs are much rarer in nature and command higher prices than the Light members of the suite.
Orion’s focus is on Neodymium, Gadolinium, Europium, Terbium, Dysprosium, Yttrium, Lanthanum and Cerium as these occur in the Killi Killi mineralisation.
Below is a brief summary of each of these elements and their commercial uses.
Lanthanum: is used primarily in the hybrid vehicle industry, as LaNiH batteries, and in petroleum production as fluid cracking catalysts.
Cerium: demand lies in the automotive catalytic converter industry, as a polishing powder for TVs, monitors, mirrors & silicon chips, and as an additive to glass.
Neodymium: is used primarily for making very strong NdFeB (Neodymium Iron Boron) permanent magnets which are in turn used in many applications such as computer disks, speakers, microphones, electrical motors, wind turbines and gas turbines. NdFeB permanent magnets are a critical component in hybrid and electric vehicles.
Europium: provides the red colour in fluorescent lighting, LCDs, PDPs and when combined with terbium, gives “white” light for backlighting in several different products that use digital LCD screens. Europium has many interesting properties; it is a superconductor under certain conditions; it is as hard as lead; and it has phosphorescent properties that makes it strategically important to LCDs and energy efficient fluorescent lighting manufacturers.
Gadolinium: is used for X-ray and MRI imaging, the nuclear industry, microwave applications and in magnetic refrigerators. Gadolinium has very interesting properties making it useful in different, unrelated products. It is paramagnetic (exhibits magnetic properties only in the presence of another magnetic field), and demonstrates a magnetocaloric effect (a reversible change in temperature that occurs in the presence of a magnetic field). Research is being done on creating refrigeration and air conditioning units which would no longer require mechanical parts.
Terbium: is used in making Terfenol-D (military uses in naval sonar systems), doping magnets which are used in hybrid cars (the terbium acts to maintain the magnet field in high temperature environments). Terbium is also used as the green colour in fluorescent lighting and LCD screens. It is also relatively scarce in the distribution and is currently the highest valued element in the lanthanides because of its unique properties and small supply.
Dysprosium: is used in making Terfenol-D (used by the military in naval sonar systems), doping magnets used in hybrid vehicles (the dysprosium acts to maintain the magnet field in high temperature environments), as well as in nuclear reactors, and lasers. Dysprosium has properties that make it one of the highest valued rare earth elements.
Yttrium: is used as a host lattice for doping Eu and Tb for the manufacturing of LCDs and fluorescent lighting (energy saving light bulbs). It is used as stabilizing agent in strategic alloys and zirconia ceramics, microwave communication, superconductors, fuel cells and lasers.