Toshiba develops powerful magnet without expensive rare earths
JAPAN: China may be losing its stranglehold on rare earth minerals - the expensive elements used in modern high tech equipment and the powerful magnets vital in fan motors and high efficiency air conditioning and refrigeration compressors.
China's largest rare earth producer recently posted a 20% profit fall due to tumbling prices and a slow down in demand. Much of this is due to the downturn in the market but some is thought to be as a result of manufacturers finding alternative sources of supply.
With China commanding 95% of the market, there have been claims that China has unfairly restricted overseas sales through export taxes and quotas that have drastically pushed up prices. India, meanwhile, the second largest producer has stepped in with ambitious plans to cash in on its large deposits.
Now Toshiba Corp is said to have developed a powerful motor magnet that does not contain the rare earths, dysprosium and neodymium but, instead, uses far cheaper samarium. And China does not have a near-monopoly on samarium as it does with that other key rare earth. In fact, there are large deposits in Australia and the USA.
Toshiba has developed technology for boosting the magnetic force of samarium-cobalt magnets to a level similar to that of magnets using the more expensive rare earths, dysprosium and neodymium, the rare earths currently used in high efficiency motors. Toshiba says it has almost the same capabilities as heat-resistant neodymium magnets of the same size.