Time to REE-name the HREEs?
But there’s a new “separation problem” in the Rare Earths sector: Separating the truly high-demand REEs — largely Heavies — from the Lights, headed for bargain-basement surplus, a dead weight sinking the market-caps of all REE projects, Heavy and Light alike.
With some exceptions, the LREEs have entered the oxymoronic land of the Jumbo Shrimp: The Light Rares are anything but. Meanwhile, several of the Heavy Rare Earths are heading into shortfall, or may be there already. Discussion now focuses on whether China, currently producing nearly 99% of all HREEs, is running out of Heavy Rare Earths. The result in the Rare Earth “market” is a divergence so sharp that a single name that lumps 17 Rares together — 1/6th of all elements found in nature — is increasingly more likely to obscure than illuminate. Try filling an order for Y2O3 with CeO2: You’ll learn immediately that all Rares are not created equal.
Evidence of this recognition comes in the growing usage of the term Critical Rare Earth Elements — or, oxides, as in CREO — a category pioneered by Jack Lifton and Gareth Hatch. That’s progress, as it puts the focus on the sub-set of REEs most needed for the green-tech transition, and, to some extent, high-tech and national security applications. Most often, the Light REE Neodymium is in there; sometimes one of more of the S-E-G Middle Rare Earths, pops up, too: Samarium, Europium and Gadolinium. The problem, as the phrase moves from the REE analysts into the REE industry, is that “Critical” is a movable feast, with each company taking creative license to define the critical basket in ways that slot in their own strong showings.
Meanwhile, the Heavies, sinking under the weight of the Lights, need to hire a branding expert, and relaunch under a new name.
Clearly, the old names aren’t working. Most of the Heavies derive theirs from the place-names of their discovery: Holmium from Stockholm; Erbium, Terbium, Ytterbium and Yttrium from bits and pieces of Ytterby, Sweden; Thulium from the ancient name for Scandinavia; Lutetium from the historic name for Paris, the city where it was first separated. Outside the Lanthanides, there’s Scandium — “scantily scant” as James Hedrick’s authoritative REE Handbook terms it — with a name tying back to Scandinavia. For elements that, technologically, are rocketing us towards the future, their nomenclature is a throw-back to the past.
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Among the Heavies, only one name points in a different direction: Dysprosium — derived from the Greek, dysprositos: “hard to get.”
Indeed — and perhaps now we’re on to something.
Maybe Nos. 65-71 + Y and Sc are the Difficult Rares — hard to find in volume, tricky to separate.
Or maybe they are the Scant Rares — short in supply, scant owing its origins to the Norse word, skamt, a name that keeps the group tied to their original Scandinavian neighborhood.
Or perhaps they’re the Really Rares — as in: this-time-we-really mean-it.
I invite InvestorIntel’s learned readership to offer their own entries — coining a new name that will help highlight the rarest rares and their novel characteristics.
Leaving the Roman alphabet behind, it’s worth a look at how Chinese hanzi handles this challenge. The composite logogram for REE combines the characters for: Rare/Infrequent/Peculiar, with a little dash of Precious/Cherished as well.
Sounds about right. Now it’s time for the ROW — Rest of World — to give a name to these nine elements that puts the focus on their unique value and emergent scarcity, and leaves the Lights behind.
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