The Big Picture: Looking under the sea for REE; latest on scandium, gadolinium, holmium

It’s a new feature. It’s what used to be called “The Weekly Review” which – alas – was not always weekly, largely due to the sporadic and uneven news flow about rare earths. Then Publisher Tracy Weslosky kicked off the REE “Week-in-Review” which, by sharp contrast, is both weekly and a review.

So “The Big Picture” is here – a semi-regular grab-bag of rare earth news and applications that helps keep readers up to date with this fast-changing sector. 

So this edition has the latest updates on the Japanese scene, a new scandium product (oh, and a project being fast-tracked), plus some techie material about gadolinium and holmium.

First: the bottom-of-the-ocean-REE-riches story is back. The Nikkei news service reports that scientists at the University of Tokyo and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology have developed a technology that will allow undersea metals to be detected by changes in gravity. They’re going to experiment at the 1,000 metre deep Suruga Bay. The quest is not just rare earths, but rare and precious metals too.

And there’s been a development in the “reduce, replace and reuse” story. You know, the one about how end-users are looking to lessen their dependence on rare earth metals in the absence of sufficient non-China production. Daido Steel has a plant in China’s Jiangsu province that produces automotive magnets. It plans to invest 1 billion yen ($12.5 million) to double producton of a newly developed magnet that reduces by half the amount of dysprosium used. This is in response to the rising cost of the element and Daido is hoping to enlarge its market share by – effectively – becoming more cost competitive through reducing the amount of dysprosium it buys. Its brawny neodymium magnets are used in power steering parts in automobiles.

In another development, TDK Corp and Showa Denko may bed down as early as this month their China joint venture to produce high-performance rare earth magnets. The Nikkei reports the magnets will be ready for the 2014 model electric and hybrid vehicles. The neodymium magnets would initially be used in 2014 model year EVs and hybrids made by Japanese automakers; the two partners intend to add capacity as demand from local Chinese carmakers grows.

Now, a new scandium product. Out of Seattle, Baden Sports Inc has unveiled a new line of its Axe trademark baseball and softball bats. The company says that these employ “Reinforced Composite Technology or LP Scandium Alloy to provide bigger sweet spots and maximum legal performance.”

Meanwhile, Platina Resources (ASX:PGM) said it is launching a scoping study on its Owendale, New South Wales, platinum and scandium project. It claims to the have the world’s highest grade scandium resource, all 3,400 tonnes of it (along with 287,000oz of platinum). The deposit is 12km north of Fifield Deep Lead, Australia’s only historic platinum mine.

From Rockville, Maryland, MarketResearch.com has released a new report which says that by 2015 the medical imaging (MRI) market will be worth $6.5 billion a year. One key line in the press release: “To further add to the cardiac imaging repertoire, intravenous gadolinium contrast agents, in conjunction with sequences designed to assess myocardial perfusion and degree of viability, are becoming commonplace“. We’ve reported previously on the growing role of gadolinium in medical applications.

And, on Optics.org, there is an update from Michael Von Salisch, Senior Scientist, Special Laser Applications, at the French German Research Institute Saint Louis, which was established in 1958 to foster Franco-German cooperation into armaments R&D. It all involves the use of laser technology in military applications, and there’s some detail about the employment of holmium in laser use to damage enemy airborne weapons and platforms. It’s all well above this writer’s pay grade, but the technologically-inclined will no doubt find it interesting.