EDITOR: | November 12th, 2013 | 15 Comments

Time to REE-name the HREEs?

| November 12, 2013 | 15 Comments

renamingreesIt’s commonplace in the Rare Earths world to note the key challenge with REEs is the separation process — not only teasing the Rares from their host rock, but from each other.

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.

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.


The Chinese character for Rare Earths.

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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  • Asher Berube

    I think part of the problem is that when people hear the term rare they tend to think of luxuries as opposed to components for technology.

    There is so much emphasis on the value of silver, gold & platinum as being valuable because of how rare they are. It is understandable that people are likely confused when they hear the News telling them rare earths aren’t rare.

    Part of re-marketing rare earths should include education of what they can do as opposed to how difficult they are to obtain.

    November 12, 2013 - 10:56 AM

    • J. Best

      Great comment Asher. As an investor new to this arena I think your observations are very accurate.

      November 12, 2013 - 11:31 AM

  • David

    The Significant-9 Rare Earths.

    November 12, 2013 - 11:09 AM

    • J. Best

      I like this David, okay going to mull this over and try to come up with a good one!

      November 12, 2013 - 11:34 AM

  • gobucks

    I hope this was written in jest.

    The elements were named by the scientific community.

    You want to change those time-honored names for marketing purposes?


    November 12, 2013 - 1:05 PM

  • Veritas Bob

    HVREEs. High Value Rare Earth Elements. Read on to learn more about it.

    ‘Yttrium “R’ Us’ could be used in a truth in advertising campaign by many of the “HREE” juniors, who have been bragging about the high proportion of HREEs to REEs, without highlighting that most of those “HREES” (of which Yttrium technically is not even a member) consist of Yttrium, which is the “cerium” of the HREEs, priced well below even the light REEs Neodymium and Praseodymium.

    O.k., so here’s the answer, HVREEs. High Value Rare Earth Elements. They could instead be called HPREEs (High Price REEs), but High Value connotes their ultimate value, while semi-ambiguously suggesting high price, and can better appeal to the idealist (end value to engineering, society, etc.) without sounding so blatantly greedy. Price really is the bottom line (leaving aside production cost, capex, etc.) from an investment point of view. Yttrium should NOT be included among the HVREEs. However, significant increases in supply of certain HVREEs brings the possibility of reduction in their value (or price), including the possibility of loss of High Value status. So ultimately, if the Baotou Rare Earth Exchange adds futures with contract expirations extending out a ways, then there will be a better basis to evaluating what is valuable in the ground now, based on delivery in the future. The elements comprising the HVREEs will not be static, and can change over time with changes in current and future (projected by futures) supply and demand.

    Use of the term HVREEs does not require changing existing element names, and could be viewed as similar in spirit to CREEs, but in this case, criticality is measured by price, while connoting value for end use.

    I shall of course expect licensing fees if the terms HVREE or HPREE (or HVREEs, HPREEs) are used in a commercial endeavor.

    November 12, 2013 - 1:36 PM

  • vacuum

    Stans has a VancouverEx ticker: HRE which is pretty much HREE. If name was resounding, perhaps Stans would be in the clouds instead of the mud.

    The word “rare” is sometimes used as a polite way of saying “strange” — as in ‘she is a rare bird’. Probably at the time of calling these elements rare elements there was an intuitive sense that they had properties which, though then presently unknown because their application had yet been found, though they, like all the other elements surely they had useful properties. They were mysterious, as it were.

    In this sense, one could say ubiquitous graphite is rare because graphene is so strange.

    People on the internet who fawn over so-called science and disdain religion do not realize that the enchantment of elegance & beauty & simplicity is a significant basis of a theory being well received by the scientific community. There lurks within science, therefore, the human spirit.

    For this reason it is important for NoAmerican REEs to somehow distinguish what they got from what China has too much. And whoever can do this will inexorably change the perception of LREEs. The failure of Molycorp to have done this is astonishing given they have Neomaterials in their fold.

    November 12, 2013 - 3:11 PM

  • hackenzac

    There wasn’t much of a market for sewage sludge until they renamed them biosolids. Silverbrite sounds much better for chum salmon. They call dog salmon “keta”. Elements are elemental but you can always group them for marketing purposes. Howabout we combine Creo with technology metals and call the group “critical technology metals”. CTM’s for short. Everyone can understand that.

    November 12, 2013 - 3:16 PM

  • Bill Keenes

    The problem is not in the name

    Neither Molycorp or Lynas have been a shining light for the rare earth sectors – recording losses and delays … and therein lies the problem

    If you want to change sentiment and gain investor attention, then we need a company producing and recording profits (not losses)
    It’s going to happen, the first heavy rare earth producer I predict will knock everyone’s socks off it will be that profitable – then the woes of the sector will become a distant memory

    Light rare earth producers (Molycorp and Lynas) have to compete with the Chinese and are producing products mostly in supply surplus

    Heavy rare earth producers won’t have to compete with the Chinese and will be producing products mostly in supply shortfall

    Give us a “highly profitable” heavy rare earth producer and the investors will come

    It’s that simple

    November 12, 2013 - 3:48 PM

  • Hiwayman

    Disprositos in Greek,means ‘hard to get.. at’. Not so with an ore
    body containing Xenotime,pronounced Zen-o-time.

    Xenotime mineralization is coarse,with microns of 50-300 HRE
    and grain groups up to 3MM in length and easily processed.
    There is an Australian company whose Xenotime composition
    is going to lift the production of HRE coming onto the market by
    2016…or before. And the ROW is going to need it. Watch for
    Global demand of HRE to increase by a margin of 10 percent

    Bill Keenes is correct in saying that the problem is not the name,
    but rather to focus on a company that gets it right within the HRE
    sector and ticks most of the boxes.One stands out for special

    November 13, 2013 - 6:04 AM

  • Daniel McGroarty

    Great to see these comments. In regard to hackenzac’s CTM — Critical Technology Metals — this is similar to Jack Lifton’s Tech Metals moniker circa 2007, so perhaps Tech as a term would help…. That said, Tech Metals will lead beyond HREE, which may once again muddy the waters. As for Veritas’ High-Value REE — intriguing… Maybe we can use Predator Drones to help with excavation, as their “pilots” are already focused on High-Value targets!

    To be sure, the arrival of a significant non-Chinese HREE producer will transform the Rare Earths sector. It is getting there — and not incidentally raising capital in a sour market — that is made even more challenging by virtue of the generic REE label creating confusion in the marketplace.

    I come back to my jumping-off point: Having a single name for 17 elements showing such different uses and different supply-and-demand profiles is doing more harm than good.

    November 13, 2013 - 10:30 AM

  • Joe

    How about HDL for High Demand Lanthanides? It’s short and sweet, and has the added advantage that HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) is the good kind of cholesterol. Just sayin’.

    November 13, 2013 - 1:02 PM

  • Kitjean

    A rose by any other name……..

    November 13, 2013 - 6:06 PM

  • David Mortimer

    The demand in the market should dictate the price , not the name .

    November 13, 2013 - 7:51 PM

  • JJBeswick

    I look at the RE market rather differently.
    Using Hongpo’s Chinese production figures, easily obtained prices and some rough back of envelope calculations we see the following.
    By value:
    – about 12% of the market is Ce/La (assuming all production is sold): cracking, catalysts and polishing.
    – Nd/Pr, the key magnet metals, 57%.
    – The 65+ “heavies” are 23% of the market, 14% of that is Dy. Most of the Dy, at least until thrifting really takes hold, is headed to magnets as well (along with some Tb). The remaining 65+ market is mostly phosphors (in particular Y’s 5%) where demand is dropping as LED tech takes over.
    It’s easy to see that the real RE market- even the current HREE/65+ market- is dominated by magnets.
    By the way I’d like to nominate Eu (7%) as an honourary HREE; its future is also tied to phosphors and not looking bright (if you’ll pardon the pun).

    May 30, 2015 - 1:30 AM

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