House of Cards Finale Advises U.S. of Military Shortage of Rare Earth Samarium
This morning I was speaking with Chris Ecclestone in London about his new column that will be coming out every Tuesday on InvestorIntel when he asked me if I had watched ‘House of Cards’ finale. Apparently, in the House of Cards season finale, Kevin Spacey’s character Frank Underwood finally becomes aware that rare earths needed for the missile systems are all controlled and owned by the Chinese. Of course, one can only be informed properly of such issues by a billionaire. And this happens appropriately when billionaire character Raymond Tusk played by Gerald McRaney does what any conscientious billionaire does, and advises their respective nation’s leaders of what’s really happening when it is beneficial for them.
I let Chris know that WIRED Magazine has a writer that has been trying to get me help him do a follow-up Black Ops story surrounding the smuggling issue around rare earths. Chris was surprised to discover that I have indeed identified via my sources a smuggler, but I told the journalist keen to do the story that I felt it would undoubtedly result in someone being killed, so I thought he should just leave it alone. While I would like to thank my sources for letting me know I am being followed on my social media outlets by such an individual, it’s always better when one is unaware that they are being hunted.
So just as I asked ‘rockstar’ when he emailed me to tell me he had turned 12k into 2.3 million yesterday – how exactly does this help me? Well it does, and here is why…House of Cards, and Black Ops help the rare earth and technology metals sector by stirring curiosity, which then in turn has people racing to their computer to do a search for ‘samarium’ – and finding us.
Have you seen First European Minerals or FEM as we call them? Alastair Neil will be in our office next week to tell us more, but they have bought a major World War II bunker in Germany and are buying rare earths and specialty metals for investors so for anyone that thinks rare earths are not interesting, may not appreciate that this sector demands an understanding of technology, history and politics, just for starters. And if you are a House of Cards viewer or a Black Ops players, you may genuinely appreciate that you can call FEM and physically own and store enough rare earths to sleep well at night.
I mentioned to Jack Lifton who is preparing for his flight to China this weekend in an email that I was writing a piece on samarium, and he responded with: “The most important, and the largest use for samarium is in samarium-cobalt rare earth permanent magnets. These are the only REPMs actually made from the metals themselves in the USA. Electron Energy is the military’s sole supplier of this type of REPMs, which are known to be very resistant to electromagnetic radiation. Sm-Co magnets make up about 10% of the REPM market.”
You want to know more? Sm is used for electric guitars and is not used for the handling of nuclear fuel rods as referenced in the House of Cards episode, and I think they meant to say ‘beryllium’ which is a critical material, but not a rare earth. Here is a video I did with Alastair Neil of FEM, IBC Advanced Alloys and Mason Graphite in an interview where he explains the Strength of the Beryllium Market and the military applications. Always happy to see script writers are expanding our audience, but for ease – let me take you to the fountain of knowledge: Mr. James Hedrick. The following is content from our REEHandbook site that comprehensively explains what Samarium is…
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Samarium Background: The discovery of samarium was a tale of international intrigue. The “type” mineral traveled from the scenic Ilmen Mountains in the southern Urals of Russia, to the industrialized city of Berlin where it was examined and described by a German mineralogist, named after a Russian mining engineer and finally journeyed to the ultimate vineyard region of Cognac, France, where the territory is not only conducive to the maturation of grapes, but for the discovery of elements. A French chemist would discover not only samarium, but two more.
- High-strength samarium cobalt magnets allowed the miniaturization of hundreds of applications in the 1970s including cassette tape players, computer disk drives, headphones, boom boxes, and speakers.
- Fender manufacturers single coil noiseless (no background hum) guitar pickups using samarium cobalt magnets.
- Samarium X-ray lasers have applications in radiography.
- Samarium-cobalt permanent magnets are used in many defense applications including servo-motors to adjust the flight control surfaces (fins) on missiles.
Samarium Interesting Facts:
- Based on samarium cobalt magnets, Sony introduced the TPS-L2 Walkman, the first portable audio cassette player in 1979, beginning the era of personal music listening which evolved into DVD players and then MP3 players.
- The samarium isotope, Sm-153, is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis of the knee and other joints. The isotope’s beta emissions penetrate the synovium (soft tissue) of the joints to about 2.5 millimeters and have a short half-life.
- Samarium was the first element to be named after a person.
- Samarium chloride taken internally in the proper quantity will combine with alcohol and keep you from becoming drunk.
Samarium Discovery: Samarium was discovered by French chemist Paul Émile Lecoq de Boisbaudran in 1879. He noticed in his research that impure didymium (praseodymium and neodymium with other impurities), seemed to contain more than just didymium based on spectroscopic work on various rare-earth minerals. When Lecoq de Boisbaudran added ammonium hydroxide to a concentrate prepared from the mineral samarskite he observed a precipitate that formed before the didymium (Weeks and Leicester, 1968, p. 685). The new earth that precipitated had a unique spectrum and de Boisbaudran named it samaria, after the mineral from which it was derived (Lecoq de Boisbraudran, 1879). The mineral samarskite is named for a Russian mining engineer and Chief of Staff – Corps of Mining Engineers, Colonel Vasili Evgrafovich Samarsky-Bykhovets. The mineral was discovered and renamed by German mineralogist Heinrich Rose who determined it contained primarily niobium, and changed the name from uranotantalum to samarskite to avoid confusion (Rose, 1847). He named the mineral in honor of V.E. Samarsky-Bykjovets for granting access to mineral samples. The samarskite was from the Blyumovskaya Pit, Ilmen Mountains, Southern Urals, Russia.
Samarium Definition: Samarium is a silvery-yellow lustrous metal that tarnishes in air. Samarium will ignite in air at about 150 °C. The metal is relatively hard and brittle. It has a rhombohedra structure, a density of 7.536 gm/cm3, a melting point of 1072 °C, and a boiling point of 1900 °C. Samarium oxide, or samaria, occurs as a sesquioxide with the formula Sm2O3. The trivalent oxide is a light-yellowish powder with a specific gravity of 7.1 gm/cm3 and a formula weight of 348.70. The bivalent oxide is red-brown. Samarium has 16 isotopes. Natural occurring samarium contains 7 isotopes, with 3 being unstable with long half-lives.
Preparation of Samarium Metal: Samarium metal is typically prepared by metallothermic reduction of the oxide, since it will not reduce from the trihalide because of its high vapor pressure. The oxide is is heated in air to 800 °C for 15 hours to drive off absorbed moisture, carbon dioxide, and other compounds. Samarium oxide is reduced with lanthanum metal turnings (15% in excess of theoretical amount) by volatilization within a tantalum crucible with an attached tantalum condenser. The reactants are heated in a vacuum reduction furnace by slowing raising the temperature to 1600 °C and held at temperature for several hours (Beaudry and Gschneidner, Jr., 1978). Samarium metal is formed starting at 800 °C when the oxide preferentially separates from the samarium oxide and combines with the lanthanum metal forming lanthanum oxide and forms a sublimated samarium metal within the tantalum condenser.
Samarium Source: Large resources of samarium are contained in LREE-enriched minerals. Samarium occurs in the Earth’s crust at an average concentration of 6 parts per million. The primary source of samarium is from carbonatites and the LREE-mineral bastnäsite. Bastnäsite deposits in China and the United States constitute the largest percentage of the world’s rare-earth economic resources. Samarium is also a constituent in the LREE-mineral monazite which constitutes the second largest segment of rare-earth resources. Monazite deposits are located in Australia, Brazil, China, India, Malaysia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and the United States in paleoplacer and recent placer deposits, sedimentary deposits, veins, pegmatites, carbonatites, and alkaline complexes (Hedrick, 2010). Samarium sourced from the LREE-mineral loparite is recovered from a large alkali igneous intrusion in Russia (Hedrick, Sinha, and Kosynkin, 1997).
Samarium, a light-group rare-earth element (LREE) is mined from a variety of ore minerals and deposits using various methods. Bastnäsite is mined in the United States as a primary product from a hard-rock carbonatite. The deposit is mined via bench-cut open pit methods. Ore is drilled and blasted, loaded into trucks by loaders, and hauled to the mill. At the mill the blasted ore is crushed, screened, and processed by flotation to produce a bastnäsite concentrate. In China, bastnäsite and lesser amounts of associated monazite are also mined from a carbonatite. The ore is recovered as a byproduct of iron ore mining by hard-rock open pit methods. After crushing the ore is separated from the iron ore by flotation to produce a bastnäsite concentrate and a bastnäsite-monazite concentrate (Hedrick, 1990).
Monazite is recovered from heavy-mineral sands (specific gravity >2.9) deposits in various parts of the world as a byproduct of mining zircon and titanium-minerals or tin minerals. Heavy mineral sands are recovered by surface placer methods from unconsolidated sands. Many of these deposits are mined using floating dredges which separate the heavy-mineral sands from the lighter weight fraction with an on-board wet mill through a series of wet-gravity equipment that includes screens, hydrocyclones, spirals, and cone concentrators. Consolidated or partially consolidated sand deposits that are too difficult to mine by dredging are mined by dry methods. Ore is stripped by typical earth-moving equipment with bulldozers, scrapers, and loaders or by water jet methods. Ore recovered by these methods is crushed and screened and then processed by the wet mill described above. Wet mill heavy-mineral concentrate is sent to a dry mill for processing to separate the individual heavy-minerals using a combination of scrubbing, drying, screening, electrostatic, electromagnetic, magnetic, and gravity processes. Vein monazite has been mined by hard-rock methods in South Africa and the United States (Hedrick, 2010). Loparite is mined by underground methods using room and pillar methods. Ore is drilled and blasted and removed from the mine. The ore is then processed by the same hard-rock methods as applied to bastnäsite to make a loparite concentrate.
Tracy Weslosky is the CEO of InvestorIntel Corp., a company that publishes InvestorIntel.com. A leading source for investors, entrepreneurs and industry leaders alike, InvestorIntel is ... <Read more about Tracy Weslosky>