Toshiba samarium magnet holds rare earth promise for Arafura, Lynas
- ROBIN BROMBY
- From:The Australian
- August 17, 2012 11:41AM
SUDDENLY, the rare earths market has been thrown a curve-ball.
Toshiba Corp has developed a powerful motor magnet that does not contain the rare earth, dysprosium, but, instead, holds another rare earth, samarium.
Make no mistake, this is a big deal.
For one thing, samarium is far cheaper than dysprosium (it is grouped with the light elements, while dysprosium is a heavy rare earth). Secondly, China does not have a near-monopoly on samarium as it does with that other key rare earth.
In fact, Australia is well placed to supply samarium. The Nolans deposit in the Northern Territory (owned by Arafura Resources) has, in its rare earth mix, 2.3 per cent of the total comprising samarium. Mt Weld in Western Australia (owned by Lynas Corp) has 2.44 per cent of its rare earths made up by samarium.
That may sound small, but when you compare the huge Baiyunebo rare earths mine in Inner Mongolia, with its 1.15 per cent samarium, and the Mountain Pass mine in California with 0.8 per cent, then you can see how Australia is poised to take advantage of this.
It will certainly help the economics of the Australian projects as samarium is grouped with the also-rans rare earths -, coupled with gadolinium, samarium now comprises less than 2 per cent of rare earth demand.
In fact, the Japanese press reports about the Toshiba development make mention of Australia as one potential source of samarium.
Toshiba has developed technology for boosting the magnetic force of samarium-cobalt magnets to a level on a par with that of magnets using the more expensive rare earths, dysprosium and neodymium. These magnets are said to be sufficiently powerful for use in motors that propel cars and trains as well as industrial machinery, according to Toshiba.
Magnets are the fastest growing demand sector in rare earths, accounting for 24 per cent of consumption. These magnets allow the miniaturisation of electronic products and electric motors such as earphones, smartphones as well as hard-disk drives, and are used significantly in hybrid electric vehicles and wind turbines.