The Pulse: Silence on magnetic refrigeration; Phosphate move in Australia; Airbus thinks again about battery

the-pulse-300x254121Here’s a question: whatever happened to one of the most exciting potential rare earth applications, one that could improve the environment immeasurably? I speak of magnetic refrigeration. Magnetic refrigeration is where your refrigerator keeps cold by using a magnet. That means no hydrofluorcarbons. If it works – and the technology still has to be commercialised – it will mean using gadolinium as the magnetic refrigerant agent.

It’s coming up a year since I raised this issue after it was mentioned at the 2012 rare earths conference in Sydney. Even then, it was mentioned only in passing.

Since then I have been waiting for some news, some development, some excitement. But there’s been almost nothing. Enter the term in Google and you get, by and large, material that is months and years out of date.

So, instead of telling you something I hope you don’t know, I am sending out a request for something I don’t know.

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The only recent development – so far as I can find – was the publication in recent weeks of a patent filing by Japan’s Santoku Corp, located in Hyogo near Kobe, for a magnetic refrigeration device. Santoku is a manufacturer of rare earth allows (neodymium iron boron, or NdFeB, and samarium cobalt, or SmCo) for the magnetics market.

Also, coming up next month, there’s one brief session on the subject at a seminar being held by the American Physical Society. The International Institute of Refrigeration held a conference on the subject at Grenoble, France, last September.

But, other than that, there seems to have been little publicity for whatever work is being done.

What is of interest is that magnetic refrigeration, if it works, could transform, and transform dramatically, the demand for gadolinium. There are sceptics who feel that the technology might only be used is specialist applications; but if magnetic refrigeration does take off in everyday products, then it could supplant magnets as the driving force of the REE business – even though, of course, it uses magnets. The latest figures for 2016 in terms of forecasts show gadolinium demand of 2,225 tonnes and global production of 2,750 tonnes, a surplus of 525 tonnes. That’s quite a surplus, but my point is that such a surplus could disappear beyond 2016 of this technology works and gas-free refrigerators and air-conditioners spread around the world.

Present refrigeration works by compressing and then decompressing gases. Magnetic refrigeration replaces these gases by bringing the magnet into close contact with metal and aligning unpaired electrons. The temperature of the metal rises; remove the metal, and the temperature quickly lowers again. As described by the Ames Laboratory, which did much of the pioneering work, when exposed to the magnetic field, the gadolinium heats up; water is used to draw the heat out of the metal and then a second stream of water is itself cooled by the gadolinium alloy and then circulated through the refrigerator’s cooling coils.

We should be hearing more about this and what is happening. If you know, post a comment on this item.

PHOSPHATE / RARE EARTHS: Here’s a way around the problem of a small exploration company trying to find enough money to develop projects without issuing so many shares they dilute existing stockholders: sell the projects, then claw back some parts of them.

This is what Krucible Metals (ASX:KRB) has done in Queensland, Australia. It has sold its main 13 phosphate tenements to fertilizer manufacturer Daton Group Australia (ASX:DTG) which wants a secure domestic supply of the feedstock for its fertilizer projects. Krucible, while holding a remaining 15 tenements, indicates it is proposing to negotiate with Daton to regain the non-phosphate rights – including a large yttrium-rich rare earths resource – on those it has sold off. .

Now with money about to go into its bank account, Krucible is planning a near $1 million exploration program for 2013. This will include Korella and its yttrium – assuming the agreement with Daton is reached – and two other projects with rare earths targets.

The attraction of Korella to Daton Group is the fact this deposit is the only high grade, direct-shipping resource close to existing infrastructure. Moreover, it’s near surface and ready to mine.

CRITICAL METALS: More problems for the lithium-ion battery – and its graphite and lithium inputs. According to Saturday’s The Financial Times, Airbus is considering ditching the lithium-ion battery on its proposed A350 airliner – the European maker’s response to the 787 Dreamliner. The plight of the 787, and pictures now available of a badly damaged lithium-ion battery that grounded the planes, has become a nightmare for Boeing, and the airlines which have started taking delivery of the Dreamliners. Japan Airlines, for example, has postponed what was going to be its inauguration this month of a Tokyo-Helsinki service operated by its new 787s.

The newspaper said Airbus had planned to use lithium-ion batteries for starting the aircraft’s auxiliary power unit and has now signalled it will revisit the alternative, the nickel-cadmium battery.


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Robin Bromby

About Robin Bromby

Robin Bromby is a journalist, author and sometime publisher who has had titles issued by mainstream publishers, including Doubleday, Simon & Schuster and Lothian Books. Robin began as a cadet journalist in 1962 with The Dominion, the morning paper in Wellington, New Zealand. He also worked for the NZ Broadcasting Corporation, TV1, the South China Morning Post, The Herald (Melbourne), the Sunday Times (Wellington), The National Times (Sydney) and, since 1988, he has been first a staff reporter and now columnist for The Australian and has been a Senior Editor for InvestorIntel since the onset.
  1. - What ever happened to magnetic refrigeration ? …a very good question Robin !
    - It would appear that the World-wide rollout and adoption of “magnetic refrigeration” in both the household and transportation applications; remains shackled by some technological and feasibility challenges; however ongoing research continues to make inroads on both fronts.
    - My gut also tells me that not much will happen untill the Western-World can demonstrate both the desire and ability to re-establish complete, reliable, consistent supply chains of critical minerals such as “Rare-Earths” ; …which after-all; remain the very enablers of technologies such as “Magnetic Refrigeration”.
    - “Wikipedia” offers a great platform to begin an understanding of “magnetic refrigeratiion”; history / concept / challenges !
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetic_refrigeration

    u4eah

    • Thank you for your input U4EAH and Robin, you ask an excellent question. I have been waiting an opportunity to consult our former RMBApps editor Ian London and this is right up his alley. Ian, what’s happening with magnetic refrigeration apps?

  2. How much gadolinium would be used in a home kitchen magnetic refrigerator? At least a ballpark figure, so this could be assessed in the context of overall supply. Any idea when this could become a viable technology for large-scale adoption?

    • This is one of the many questions yet to be fully explained. In terms of overall demand, it would depend whether the technology was used in specialist applications or in every new refrigerator made in China, for example.

  3. The company to follow is Camfridge out of Cambridge, UK.

    http://www.camfridge.com

    They have developed the designs with Imperial College that do not rely on the GdSiGe alloy, but instead on the far more common La. It was Lanthanum Manganite, if memory serves. They have a joint venture with Whirlpool for mass distribution. All they need is the REE! Contact the CEO, Neil Wilson, a wickedly intelligent and nice man, in Cambridge, for all the correct details.

    NB. I do not own shares in Camfridge, but I sure wish I did.

    • Yes, I know all about Camfridge. Perhaps you can persuade them to put some recent material on their website; under “News”, the most recent posting added was dated April 2011. A sweep of the name through Google News also fails to find anything.

      • - Agreed Robin; I too did note the lack of recent News releases at “Camfridge”; …however the one positive thing to catch my eye; was the rather impressive network of world-class collaborative partners they are working with; including “University of Cambridge; Imperial College of London; Whirlpool; Sintef; Arcelik; and Vacuumschmelze”, (who coincidently have affiliations / arrangements for “Great Western Minerals” to supply high quality magnetic alloys) (btw; I do have small financial interest here).
        - It is my opinion that; Whoever gets this “Magnetic Refrigeration” technology right; …stands to achieve enormous financial gain; as the world rushes to adopt this entirely new, green, vastly superior process, to meet the ever increasing multitude of cooling requirements on this planet !
        - And speaking of planets; Mother-Earth also stands to become the significant beneficiary of reduced threats to the upper atmosphere from the otherwise harmfull effects of FC’s and HFC’s ,and of course “global warming”.
        - A “Win/Win” all-round; …wouldn’t ya say??
        - Who says that, only in fairy-tales can one end with; “And they All lived Happily ever-After”

        u4eah

        • Please, spare us. CFCs have been banned for over 20 years now. The ungrateful ozone hole has refused to contract!!
          Perhaps we don’t understand the science as well as we thought.

          • - The science behind these so-called safe, and highly-touted CFC replacements; may indeed not be perfect; …all the more reason to advance magnetic refrigeration!
            - From Wikipedia; …”"The interim replacements for CFCs are hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), which deplete stratospheric ozone, but to a much lesser extent than CFCs.[11] Ultimately, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) will replace HCFCs. Unlike CFCs and HCFCs, HFCs have an ozone depletion potential (ODP) of 0. DuPont began producing hydrofluorocarbons as alternatives to Freon in the 1980s. These included Suva refrigerants and Dymel propellants.[12] Natural refrigerants are climate friendly solutions that are enjoying increasing support from large companies and governments interested in reducing global warming emissions from refrigeration and air conditioning. Hydrofluorocarbons are included in the Kyoto Protocol because of their very high Global Warming Potential and are facing calls to be regulated under the Montreal Protocol[dubious – discuss][13] due to the recognition of halocarbon contributions to climate change.[14]

            On September 21, 2007, approximately 200 countries agreed to accelerate the elimination of hydrochlorofluorocarbons entirely by 2020 in a United Nations-sponsored Montreal summit. Developing nations were given until 2030. Many nations, such as the United States and China, who had previously resisted such efforts, agreed with the accelerated phase out schedule.[15]“”

  4. Not too sure about the technology at present but a few markets come to mind right away, Work Site lunch cooling maybe with some solar power Total bragging rights at lunch time. good P.R. Home Workshop beer fridges. again My fridge is more high tech than my old fridge for the state of the art keeners, and finally the low power but very important wine coolers they always advertise, like come boys that chilled white wine is important and so is perfect salad if you take out a few shelves and get real. anyway sneak attack of gadolinium or lanthanum into the kitchen. If the Homemaker(usually a woman) is onside the market would expand
    as she has the power when we are talking kitchen gear. And what the hell, Im going to gamble and go with A. a fluid slurry coolant with Nano Gd/La cooler-balls for computer mod cooling and B; matching the excellent thermal properties of Silver and Gold to enhance high end Magnetic cooling to speed heat transfer.
    Hey with cheap(er) rare earth prices on the way, We can afford to dream and not worry about where the supply will come from.
    Rare earths have a great future. Dont let those high prices hamper creativity.
    PS minus 2 celcius is a excellent temp for beer in the bush here in Thunder Bay, just a few crystals on the top when cracked in the can. give me that and I can Retire my excellent Danby which makes my summer cabin intolerable hot at night.
    Yours captn, lunar power

    • The low REE prices reflect the moribund state of economies around the world. Once things pick up, assuming they do, the REE price situation will go back to the state of affairs we had in 2010.
      Sorry, we must work the supply chain things now. If we wait til times improve it’ll be too late.

  5. Please contact me to find out about a B2B magnetic product being industrialised later this year – I heard your appeal to know more, now I trust you will share the information I provide with others.

    Timothy Lorkin
    Research & Development Director
    Cooltech Applications (& Business Development)

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