High prices have prompted manufacturers to try to
design around the use of rare earths whenever their unique
properties arent absolutely needed or, if possible, to
use more of the less-volatile, less-costly light
rare earth elements in their products.
Manufacturers need to be more confident about
the price or they will turn to alternative materials if
possible, said Steve Constantinides, director of
technology at Rochester, N.Y.-based Arnold Magnetic
Technologies Corp., a producer of rare earth permanent
With the strong run up in the price of
neodymium-iron-boron permanent magnetsdriven by
skyrocketing tags for both neodymium metal and other rare
earths, most notably dysprosiumdemand for samarium-cobalt
magnets, which generally are more of a niche product used
largely for higher-temperature applications, has doubled, he
said. In fact, some original equipment manufacturers are
turning to non-rare earths-containing ferrite magnets, which
while less powerful are also less expensive.
Constantinides noted that neodymium metal prices
have moderated slightly in the past several months after
peaking at $400 per kilogram last summer vs. a low of $7 per kg
in 2003. Meanwhile, dysprosium, without which
neodymium-iron-boron magnets would be useful only to about 80
degrees Celsiusa temperature at which it would be
rendered useless in many of its current applications, such as
automotivehas seen an even steeper climb, peaking at
$1,700 per kg compared with a low of $15 per kg.
Neodymium-iron-boron magnets were around $150 per
kg last summer compared with $45 per kg in 2010, and while
prices have since moderated somewhat they remain at historic
highs. Constantinides said he expects the moderation to
continue in the next few months and then level off at about 20
percent of current pricing.
While neodymium prices logged fourfold to fivefold
gains last year vs. 2010 levels, samariums rate of
increase was considerably less as prices just about doubled.
Despite this, Constantinides doesnt expect a major switch
to samarium-cobalt magnets, which he said are more appropriate
for such low- to moderate-volume applications as motors and
generators for aircraft and military applications, and for
guiding down-hole oil and natural gas drilling equipment.
Since there is less samarium than neodymium in the
Earths crust, he said, the current price advantage of
samarium-cobalt magnets would diminish if they were used in the
high-volume applications in which neodymium-iron-boron magnets
are currently used, including wind turbines, hybrid, electric
and other automobiles, computer disk drives and cellular