EDITOR: | August 26th, 2013 | 14 Comments

Holmium: Key element In the future of warfare?

| August 26, 2013 | 14 Comments

A key component of any analysis of critical and strategic metals is assessing the non-commercial uses of rare metals in defense weapons platforms. These specialized uses — often gleaned by inference due to the sensitive nature of the systems involved — are an important factor in global demand, even if the overall volume is small.

Railgun_usnavy_2008Case-in-point:  At the Sunday morning session of this year’s TMS 2013 Conference in Toronto, Byron King’s shotgun start to the day’s session grabbed the audience as he detailed DEW research – Directed-Energy Weapons – and the metals that make it possible. The sector is an acronym-soup of EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse), HEL (High-Energy Lasers), the aptly-named PEP (Pulsed Energy Projectile) and Electro-lasers, a kind of synthetic lightning. Then there’s DEWs’ close cousin, the Rail Gun, under development at the U.S. Navy’s Sea Systems Command. At the time, King warned attendees that if he told us more, “he’d have to kill us.”  We assumed he was kidding.

There is no question that Rare Earths are critical to DEWs, to be sure. But which Rares, in which amounts and in what systems – that’s a question where open-source sleuthing can only provide tantalizing clues.

Take Holmium (REEHandbook), for instance, No. 67 on the periodic table, a Heavy REE in the Lanthanide family. Holmium wins the Elemental Olympics, with “the strongest magnetic force of any element,” according to the Royal Society of Chemistry.

One published use for the metal in the national security sphere is its role in nuclear control rods, where it absorbs stray neutrons thrown off in the nuclear fission process.  Closer to home, Holmium is used in microwave technologies in advanced medical and dental lasers.

In the defense domain, Holmium figures in laser range finders, and target designators.  Now, we’re getting warm – quite literally.

And we’re getting into the Black Budget world as well, where, for understandable reasons, public source defense sector documents aren’t about to placard critical metal applications.

Even so, a few interesting hints are visible. Take this glimpse, from a report on U.S. Army Applied Research’s 2012 plans: “FY 2012 Plans: Investigate scalability and efficiency potential of resonantly-pumped, eye-safe, lasers in a 2-2.1 micrometer atmospherically transparent spectral domain based on Holmium (Ho)-doped crystals and ceramics.”

With such compelling applications and unusual properties, what’s holding Holmium back?

Supply, for one: Industry estimates peg global annual supply at around 10 tons (that’s equal to the weight of about four Land Rover SUVs). Compare that to annual Cerium production of about 24,000 tons. At a price of $1,000/kg, the market makes it clear that Holmium is hard to come by.

If you’re outside of China, that is. One of the leading Holium laser centers is the South China Normal University – not so surprising, since most of the world’s Holmium at present is mined in South China, at the ionic clay operations that often include gray market, non-sanctioned affairs.  According to Chinese national government edicts, the PRC is now focused on closing down China’s rogue REE mines, a move tied to their uncontrolled environmental impacts. Whether the Chinese government is closing down these operations, or consolidating them under tighter controls from Beijing central, is something the ROW – Rest of World – won’t know with certainty.

However much Holmium is being produced in China, the right amounts of it are likely reaching researchers working on what the Chinese call “new concept weapons.”  A seminal research report by futurist Mark Stokes, now more than a decade old, relied on Chinese sources to project that: “…an estimated 10,000 people, including approximately 3,000 engineers, in 300 organizations are involved in China’s laser program. Almost 40 percent of China’s laser R&D is for military purposes.”

China, of course, built nearly two dozen ZM-87 Portable Laser Disturbers — “primarily intended to blind humans” – until the advent of the 1995 United Nations Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons.  Periodic reports point to advanced lasers used by China in tank-mounted applications, and in the still-disputed blinding of a U.S. surveillance satellite. Do Holmium-doped lasers play a part in these systems? That’s an open question. But in U.S. and allied defense R&D labs, inquiring minds want to know.

Search the Web, and many metals sites will state that, today, there are “no commercial uses for Holmium.” Niche usage is nice, but breakout applications – industrial, technological or military — will be hampered by lack of supply.

As for Holmium produced outside of China, it’s a safe bet that, Field-of-Dreams style, if you mine it, they will come. And at least some of the motivated buyers will have interests in the Directed-Energy Weapons research that defense technologists predict will define the future of warfare.



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  • Tracy Weslosky

    Great piece Dan — correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t Texas Rare Earth Resources or TRER as many refer to it the only real source in the North American market? If memory servers TRER has a measured indicated and inferred resource…very interesting. And for anyone interested in Holmium (Ho) — we have a great write up on http://www.REEHandbook.com written by James Hedrick.

    Thanks again.

    August 26, 2013 - 11:46 AM

    • Arthur Michael Ambrosino

      TRER is a hardrock prospect.

      The most promising prospect in the lower 48, is in upstate New York, in the Sacandaga Basin, where monazite and xenotime, roughly 45% & 55% respectively, are in great abundance. This is an unconsolidated deposit, approximately 55 feet deep down to bedrock and these two minerals are expected to produce more than 20,000,000Mt.

      See: http://www.gsldeepening.com

      August 27, 2013 - 7:16 PM

  • J. Best

    Interesting article Dan and thanks for the information Tracy. The REE handbook is one of the only resources out there for this type of information it seems as ‘googling’ leads one on a wild goose chase for information. Heading to the TRER website now for more info on their holmium resource. Interested in more on this as it happens.

    August 26, 2013 - 11:56 AM

  • Jim S.

    Good article Dan on an interesting and rarely talked about HREE. Enjoying your articles and looking for more info on US Governments pursuit (or not) of REE independence.

    August 26, 2013 - 11:58 AM

  • Daniel McGroarty

    I thank Jim S. and J. Best for the kind comments — and second the praise for the REE Handbook, authored by my friend, Jim Hedrick.

    Tracy, you raise an interesting point. According to its website, Texas Rare Earths’ current PEA (43-101 compliant) reports a Measured & Indicated Mineral Resource of 3.3 million kg of Holmium Oxide.

    As I discuss the strategic value of Holmium in the U.S. context, let me issue an open invitation here for other U.S. REE companies to “Reply” to this thread on InvestorIntel.com with comparable Resource data to provide a picture of the potential Holmium landscape.

    August 27, 2013 - 12:23 PM

  • Gareth Hatch

    Dan – since I have the data handy, here are the quantities of holmium oxide for the other US REE deposits with demonstrated (measured + indicated) resource estimates:

    Bear Lodge (Rare Element Resources) – 163 tonnes
    La Paz (AusAmerican Mining) – 30 tonnes
    Mountain Pass (Molycorp) – 295 tonnes

    If we include all resource levels (measured + indicated + inferred) we end up with:

    Bear Lodge (Rare Element Resources) – 662 tonnes
    Bokan Mountain (Ucore Rare Metals) – 221 tonnes
    La Paz (AusAmerican Mining) – 635 tonnes
    Mountain Pass (Molycorp) – 414 tonnes
    Round Top Mountain (Texas Rare Earth Resources) – 10,502 tonnes

    Hope this helps,


    August 27, 2013 - 12:48 PM

    • Anthony Marchese


      Thanks for the information. As published in our PEA dated June 22, 202, Texas Rare Earth Resources has the following estimates for Holmium Oxide:

      Measured: 1,176,000 kg
      Indicated: 2,131,000 kg
      Inferred: 6,210,000 kg
      TOTAL: 9,517,000 kg

      Anthony Marchese
      Texas Rare Earth Resources
      [email protected]

      August 27, 2013 - 2:49 PM

      • Gareth Hatch

        Hello Anthony – thanks for the specific numbers. Mine were based on the grade % used in your PEA – with over a billion tonnes of resources, using three vs. four decimal places can add up 🙂

        August 27, 2013 - 3:35 PM

  • Value M

    So if global annual supply is 10 tons Trer potentially has a 1000 year supply? At $1000/kg their market cap looks exceptionally low in comparison, not even counting their other minerals. At some point soon one would think the bear market in trer will have to be re-thought. The implied ree content per share is overwhelming should they be able to meet the technical challenges and lower the capital costs.

    August 27, 2013 - 2:39 PM

  • REEality

    Most of the comments above are just silly. Ho is not recoverable for most of the resources listed above.

    For example: Mt. Pass has ZERO tons of recoverable Ho.

    How is it that some of you are unaware of this?

    August 27, 2013 - 3:46 PM

    • Gareth Hatch

      Of course it’s recoverable. The question is whether it can be economically recovered at current costs of production and current selling prices.

      August 27, 2013 - 4:09 PM

  • Jim S.

    The conversation happening here is encouraging. Interesting news story today found here: Existence of New Element Confirmed http://investorintel.wpengine.com/green-energy-press/existence-of-new-element-confirmed/ . Look forward to your continued contributions Dan. Thanks for the mention.

    August 27, 2013 - 8:45 PM

  • Ian

    Come-ons! and a bravos! due in the string of comments… Let’s see, multiples of hundreds and thousands of tonnes in the ground with an annual demand in multiples of 10… hence the Come-on!.

    Its no longer a question of who has the most REEs in the ground. It is a question of who is even close to economically going into production and economically producing and when. Hence a bravo to those who recognize such the changing realities… Until soon… Ian

    August 28, 2013 - 10:41 AM

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    […] InvestorIntel published an article on the critical metal holmium and Gareth Hatch got in on the debate and commented that how significant your holmium deposit is. […]

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