Chinese production and application of rare earth phosphors a week or so ago i got into a discussion with a colleague friend

A week or so ago, I got into a discussion with a colleague/friend of mine about the growing yet rapidly changing demand for rare earth phosphors… be they for CRT screens (down), LCD monitor (up) and white LEDs (skyrocketing). I had a reasonable sense of the numbers and trends, but my friend was quoting chapter and verse (and he’s generally not a detail guy). He then shared the fact that he had just read the October 2009 edition of China Rare Earth Information Bulletin, from which he graciously shared exceprts after we spoke. [The Bulletin is available on a subscription basis only].

The October edition, written by Deputy Editor-in-Chief LIU Yue, contains a wealth of production facts and figures, company names and specific rare earth applications on four technology platforms.

To quote Mr Liu’s introduction “Affected by the development of downstream devises and terminal products, production of rare earth phosphors showed some new features in recent years. Firstly, booming flat panel displays continuously reduced the yield for CRT; Secondly, polarization of RE florescent lamps promote the development of three prime colour phosphors for lamps; and thirdly, rare earth phosphors for PDP, cathode fluorescent lamps used in LCD back light sources and semi conductor illuminating LED have been put into commercial production.The requirement for rare earth phosphors such as red powders (europium-excited yttrium oxides), green powders (lanthanum, cerium and terbium phosphates) and blue powders (europium-excited aluminates or phosphates) seem to show-up everywhere. 

One of the more interesting phenomena that just jumps out is the speed at which new technologies are introduced, grow then even fade as readily The peaks and valleys seem to be getting higher and lower, and the cycle seems to be shortening.  For a raw material supplier, it is not easy to forecast technology-specific demand profiles. I’m confindent that overall demand for rare earth phosphors will grow, and even if rare earths are over-produce for a period, not to fret… some new, not-as-yet technology demand (be it phoshor, magent or electronic based) will present itself shortly.

The following brief summaries illustrate the phenomenon, and the demand for phosphors in China in  four applications: 

Phosphors for CRT (cathode ray tube) or not-so-old TV sets or TV-type monitors used to represent the greatest demand. Output of CRT phosphors rose from 650 tons per annum (‘tpa’) in 1998 to 1650 tpa in 2004, but then it dramatically dropped to 1000 tpa by 2007. The number of Chinese-produced TV sets dropped from some 76.7 million sets in 2005 to 45.4 million in 2008, with the as-revealing statistic – that CRTs dropped from 93% of all colour TVs produced to 51% in the same period. (I don’t know the number for 2009, but I don’t see many CRTs being shown in stores on this continent). To deal with the problem of idle CRT-phosphor capacity, some producers have upgraded their original production lines to make other types of phosphors.

Phosphors for PDP or Plasma Display Panels: Globally, sales of PDP colour TV was less than 350,000 sets in 2001, and apparently reached 10 million in 2006. It is estimated that 2008 will see sales around 15 million units.  In China itself, sales rose from 770,000 to just fewer than 3 million in the same period. As noted, the type and quality of phosphors are not the same for each technology application,each requiring primary and secondary designer-properties such as brightness, luminous efficiency, chromaticity, anti-aging performance and lifetime.

Phosphors for LCD: Cold cathode fluorescent lamps are (were) commonly used in large LCD display panels and LCD televisions. The production of LCD has increased 10-fold over the four years 2005 – 2008. The phosphors for this application also have their own specific requirements including high anti-ultraviolet performance, high luminescence, better calorimetric purity and high thermal quenching temperatures. [You’ll not I used the term ‘were’ as more recently LED, side-lit technologies have been introduced).

Phosphors for LEDs: As a semi-conductor illuminating device, white LED is the newest generation lighting source. To produce the white light, rare earth phosphors such as the yttrium-doped yellow phosphor, or europium-excited yttrium product are required (Wait a minute! Combining colours makes white light? — correct). Other rare earths are needed to produce blue and green phosphors. While each LED requires a smidgen, the anticipated volume of LED lights is staggering. While LEDs are used in streetlamps, nightscape engineering and LCD backlights, the greatest anticipated demand is in household lighting. The production of white LEDs in 2002 and 2003 was 2.5 and 5.0 billion respectively. In 2007, the output had apparently reached 21 billion units.

I’m afraid that I can’t provide you with a link to the specific report edition, but I would invite you to visit the general China Rare Earth Information Centre website, where you could use to subscribe to future issues of the Bulletin.