Yale Study says we’re a long way from finding substitutes for rare earth elements!

pgapp1rbart-250x    smartphones2_250 x

A team of researches at Yale University conducted an extensive study into rare earth metals used in gadgets today and concluded that there are no alternatives to the 62 metals used in smartphones that performed well, while 12 do not have any alternative at all.

This research team was led by Prof Thomas Graedel and highlights the extensive dependence on rare earth metals in gadgets today and suggests that as more and more of these modern toys are manufactured, the supply of the rare earth metals or metalloids will be strained.

It is difficult for anyone to make any real projections or forecasts, as technology is advancing and changing at such a rapid pace. In the 1980s everyone laughed at the concept of the internet taking over communications – as in, no one in 1990 could have factored in i Phones, i Pads, Tablets, Smartphones…etc. The good news for our rare, strategic metals is there is a bit of our metals in each items, positive news for investors.

“A century ago, or even half a century ago, less (author’s note: they mean “fewer“) than 12 materials were in wide use: wood, brick, iron, copper, gold, silver and a few plastics.” Yet today a modern computer chip involves the use of more than 60 different elements. (The Yale team is probably being a little restrictive: tungsten, for example, was vital in 20th century wars for bullets and shells; but their general point is well taken.)

The technological revolution is a two-edged sword. All those wonderful new applications against, as the report puts it, the challenge: “Can robust supplies of all these materials be ensured?” Their conclusion is reassuring and far short of some of the more hysterical claims from the Club of Rome 40 or so years ago that we were on the road to exhausting the world’s natural resources and, more recently, predictions in a reputable science journal seven years ago that the world was about to run out of Indium (note: there’s still plenty available).

The Yale authors say society will need to pay more attention to the acquisition and maintenance of non-renewable sources than has been the case in the past; after all, growing populations, growing affluence and modern technologies are beginning to strain resource supply. But then they add the calming conclusion: “The situation need not inspire panic, but should instead stimulate more diligent and more comprehensive approaches to the balance between supply and demand”.

The Japanese are looking for new ways to find substitutes or new supply channels for rare earth elements, which includes the plans to mine REE from the ocean floor as a response to the 2011 price insanity. If the cost is great, or supplies become difficult to obtain, then you just encourage end-users to look for substitutes.

Let´s look at Yale’s breakdown of tungsten, again one of our rare, strategic metals. Half of the metal produced goes into cemented carbides (for metal-cutting tools, mining equipment, etc.). There is a substitute: boron nitride. But this gives only “adequate” substitute performance. For light filaments, tool dies, and turbine engine components, molybdenum and nickel-molybdenum substitutes provide “good” performance (note, that’s not 100% performance substitution) while for other uses such as pigments and counterweights, there is no single substitute over all cases.

The bottom line here is that replacement by substitutes works in some cases, but even then is not as good as the original. Japan might be able to come up with technologies that allow, for example, smaller amounts of dysprosium to be used in applications, or find a substitute here and there.

But as we stand now, the REE (and other critical metal companies) should press on getting supplies to market. They will be needed.


Swissmetal Inc.s “Construction & EngineeringSwissmetal Inc.s and “Defense & Aviation” both contain tungsten, which makes it now accessible for private investors to purchase and profit from the increase in demand  over the years to come. Click here to contact Swissmetal for a free consultation on procurement & storage of this rare industrial metal.

Story Source: The above story was Published by Investor Intel, December 11 2013.