EVs drive explosive REE magnet demand
Adamas forecasts 500% growth for magnet rare earths by 2030 Metal Tech News – August 19, 2020
Last updated 9/2/2020 at 5:33am
Rare earths and battery metals market expert Adamas Intelligence forecasts that demand for the magnet rare earths – neodymium, praseodymium, and dysprosium – will falter slightly this year due to COVID-19 before rising sharply over the balance of the decade.
Electric vehicles, wind power generators, consumer appliances, cordless power tools, speakers and dozens of other modern devices benefit from the unmatched power and durability of rare earth magnets.
A lessened demand for these products due to the COVID-19 is lowering the need for the rare earth magnets that go into them.
"However, with the ongoing re-opening of key demand markets through the end of 2020 and into 2021, we expect demand for most end-uses and applications to rebound strongly in 2021 and 2022 and thereafter rise steadily through the end of the decade and beyond," Adamas Intelligence penned in an introduction to its 196-page "Rare earth magnet market outlook to 2030" report.
As a result of this rebound, Adamas foresees the global consumption of the rare earth oxides that go into these magnets reaching US$15.65 billion by 2030, which is more than five times the US$2.98 million expected to be consumed this year.
EVs drive demand
Growth of the electric mobility sectors – passenger and commercial EVs, electric motorcycles and scooters, and e-bikes – is expected to be a major driver for skyrocketing rare earth magnet demand.
Adamas anticipates that the rare earth magnets that go into the traction motors powering these electrified vehicles will make up 23% of the global demand for neodymium-iron-boron oxides and powders, the ingredients of magnets bearing the same name, by 2030. When you add in the micromotors, sensors, and speakers, the e-mobility sector is expected to consume 25% of this magnet material by the end of the decade.
"From a mere 5% of NdFeB (neodymium-iron-boron) demand today to approximately 25% of total demand by 2030, EVs are rapidly becoming one of the most important end-uses of rare earth permanent magnets," Adamas Intelligence Managing Director Ryan Castilloux told Metal Tech News.
The global critical minerals and metals research firm expects the demand for rare earth magnets will outpace the supply of neodymium, praseodymium, and dysprosium oxides that go into them by 2022. As a result, global shortages of neodymium-iron-boron alloy and powder are forecast to hit 48,000 metric tons annually by 2030, which is roughly the amount needed for 25 to 30 million EV traction motors.
Mines unlikely to meet demand
While the United States has one rare earth mine, there are no processing facilities in North America that can separate the tightly interlocked rare earths into useable oxides. In fact, only one facility outside of China currently has this capability.
As a result, nearly 90% of rare earth oxides are produced in China. The Middle Kingdom leverages its dominance across the entire mine-to-magnets supply chain to manufacture many of the high-tech products that require the high-performance these strong and durable magnets offer.
The Mountain Pass Mine in California, operated by MP Materials, ships the rare earths concentrates it produces to China to be separated into the rare earth oxides and other usable REE materials.
More information on the United States' 100% reliance on rare earth imports despite the Mountain Pass Mine can be read at The enigmatic rare earth elements paradox in the Feb. 12 edition of Metal Tech News.
The one facility outside of China currently capable of separating rare earths is Lynas Corp.'s processing plant in Malaysia.
Without new sources from mining and recycling, Adamas forecasts that global shortages of neodymium and praseodymium oxides will rise to 16,000 metric tons in 2030, which is roughly three-times Lynas' annual output out these two elements.
While there are currently efforts to establish new REE mines and the much needed separation facilities by companies in Australia, Canada, and the U.S., Adamas does not foresee enough of these facilities coming to fruition in time to meet the rising demand for rare earth magnets.
"Considering that neodymium and praseodymium oxide make up 15 to 25% of the rare earth contents in a typical light rare earth deposit, the market will need to develop an additional 60,000 to 100,000 metric tons of annual light-rich TREO (total rare earth oxide) production capacity by 2030 to avoid shortages – over and above the major increases already anticipated – which appears highly unlikely to happen at this time," Castilloux said.
Likewise, global shortages of dysprosium oxide are expected to rise to 1,850 metric tons in 2030, an amount roughly equal to current global annual mine production of this rare earth.
"Considering that dysprosium oxide makes up just 3 to 5% of the rare earth contents in a typical heavy rare earth deposit, the market will need to develop an additional 35,000 to 60,000 metric tons of annual heavy-rich TREO production capacity by 2030 to avoid shortages – over and above the major increases already anticipated – which, again, appears highly unlikely to happen at this time," the Adamas Managing Director added.
Substitutions, recycling could help
Adamas does see the potential for rare earth substitutions and recycling to fill the coming shortages of dysprosium, neodymium, and praseodymium.
Rare earth deposits typically have some mix of the 17 rare earth elements, which include the 15 lanthanides on the periodic table plus yttrium and scandium. This means lesser demanded rare earths are mined and concentrated alongside the more popular ones, which often creates a surplus of the lesser needed rare earths that is stockpiled or discarded prior to the separation process.
Castilloux said three rare earths likely to go into oversupply as the mining sector races to meet magnet demand – cerium, lanthanum, and terbium – could help fill some of the expected traditional magnet REE shortages.
"Over the past decade, there have been numerous studies demonstrating the potential to replace a portion of the neodymium or didymium (a mixture containing praseodymium and neodymium) used in sintered NdFeB alloys with globally abundant cerium and/or lanthanum while still maintaining modest magnetic properties suitable for low performance applications, such as loudspeakers," Castilloux said. "Similarly, bonded NdFeB powder industry leader, Neo Performance Materials, has developed a family of high temperature powder grades in which up to 70% of the neodymium contents have been substituted with cerium."
Likewise, terbium can be substituted for dysprosium in high-temperature-performance magnets.
"From 2023 onward we project that terbium inventories and oversupply will be used to offset under-supply of dysprosium, however, by 2026 we forecast that industry inventories will be depleted, making both dysprosium and terbium a major constraint on global production of high-temperature-performance NdFeB alloys through the second half of the decade and beyond," said Castilloux.
Recycling of magnet rare earths from end-of-life devices can also play a meaningful role in helping to satisfy demand in the years ahead.
Adamas forecasts that in 2030, up to 90,000 metric tons of rare earth magnets will be available for recycling globally as products reach the end of their usable life – 4,500 metric tons from wind turbine generators, 4,500 metric tons from EV traction motors, 35,000 metric tons from consumer electronics, 10,000 metric tons from consumer appliances, 10,000 metric tons from cordless power tools and upwards of 35,000 metric tons more from a long list of other end uses and applications.
"If just 5 to 10% of the NdFeB magnets entering waste streams globally each year by 2030 could be viably recovered and recycled it would make a substantial contribution to global supply," Castilloux said.
Read more on one company's efforts to recycle rare earths from magnets at Magnets are rare earth feed for Geomega in the Aug. 12 edition of Metal Tech News.