Here’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 Enter the term in Google and you get, by and large, material that is months and years out of date.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.
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.