Podcast – Boron and U.S. Rare Earths

Apr 16, 2022 | PODCASTS, MINING

Boron and US Rare Earths

Welcome back to the Borates Today podcast. Each week we cover a topic that is relevant to the industry and timely. We cover the latest industry news. Who are the key players in the sector? What are the latest trends, driving demand and supply for boron. What is the science behind boron and who’s doing valuable research into new boron applications and benefits.

We look at how boron helps in advanced energy, in food security, and in providing nutrition. So don’t forget to check out boron applications and benefits on our website borates.today.

Today, we’re going to take a look at boron and US rare earths and the stockpiling policy. The US is boosting the stockpile of its rare earth materials, such as cobalt and lithium. But why is this? The answer is partly to reduce dependence on China and partly to have a strategic policy towards rare earth sourcing and distribution.

As we know, rare earths have become valuable resources and are used in EV batteries and de-carbonization initiatives. What is the stance on boron and U.S. Rare Earths as a critical mineral from the point of view of the US government and industry.

Let’s look at the recent history. A memo on the agreement was signed in February, 2022 and the Pentagon said they would increase the stock pile of rare earth minerals, cobalt and lithium to decrease this dependence on China for the longterm. The Pentagon will need lithium, which is a crucial component in producing electric vehicle batteries to achieve its goal to reduce its non tactical vehicle fleet to 170,000.

It was nearly a year ago in February 2021 when president Biden issued an executive directive to examine the US supply chain resilience. The new stockpile agreement guidance has just been announced as well.

After processing a group of 17 metals called rare earths, which can be used to create magnets for electric vehicles and weapons in electronics, US military researchers have developed the most popular type of rare earth magnets since world war two. They have been used in next generation weapons, like the Lockheed F35 jet and precision guided munitions.

As for China, China has gradually seized control over rare earths over the last 30 years, With over 60% of the world’s rare earth global production, China is the undisputed leader in the category, enabling itself to dominate the value chain with rare earth magnets, both for commercial, and aerospace and defense initiatives.

Back in 2020, of the 36,000 tons of rare earth magnets exported by China, just under 14% of the shipments came to the U S.

The agreement in 2022 signed by the department of energy, defense and state covers select materials and large batteries used in the electric grid. The memo directs inter agency coordination for an unclassified stockpile of relevant non-fuel minerals. This is necessary to help the transition towards more sustainable technologies.

In addition, the agreement allows other USDA agencies like the department of energy, to coordinate and draw from these stockpiles.

At present, the United States says one rare earths mine, and no facility for processing rare earth minerals.

Many lithium and rare earth miners are hoping that the Pentagon would purchase more domestic products. But currently the Pentagon continues to buy supplies from China to build up its reserves. And this paradox is something many Capitol hill members are keen to change not just in the short term, but over time.

So rare earths production creates significant pollution. This is one of the weaknesses about rare earths. That’s why public sentiment towards extraction and production is unfavorable in the United States. The process is currently being made more environmentally friendly through ongoing research into sustainable extraction and communication of societal benefits by both mining producers and other companies along the value chain.

Let’s take a step back and ask what are rare earths. 17 metallic elements make up the rare elements or R E E and these include the 15 lanthanides on the periodic table plus scandium and yttrium.

The American geo sciences.org website has more details on the rare earth elements and their importance.

Many high-tech devices require rare earth elements and according to the us geological surveys news release ‘Going Critical’ rare earth elements are essential components in over 200 products in a wide variety of applications. This includes high-tech consumer products, such as cell phones, computer hard drives and electric vehicles, electronic displays lasers, reader, Sona and guidance systems are also critical defense applications.

The amount of REE in a product might not be significant by its weight value or volume but it can still be essential for the devices function. For example, magnets made from REE are often only a fraction of the products total weight. However spindle motors, voice calls and desktop and laptop computers could not possibly work without these rare earths.

Turning some Boron and its position as a rare earth, it has not been included in the list. But it can be considered a mineral of strategic importance. Wind turbines and electric vehicles are just two of many sectors that will need the rare earth elements and in which boron is also required.

And while the world shifts towards green energy, it is clear that the future of green energy is heavily reliant on rare earth minerals and other minerals like boron. There is an untapped potential in hardware as a means to increase the efficiency of current equipment as tools to be developed in clean energy source, also a driver for demand.

In the short term, the most effective way to balance the market is by curbing demand and this can be done by promoting innovation in green technologies while working towards climate ambitions at a product level, thus reducing the consumption of rare earth elements. And substituting more friendly alternatives. Again, boron is a candidate in this initiative.

Researchers at the department of chemistry and physics at Pennsylvania state university, namely Shi-Bo Cheng, Cuneyt Berkdemir, and A. W. Castleman, Jr have shown that boron doped lanthanide super atom clusters mimic the valence electronic figuration of certain rare earth elements and may serve as rare earth analogs.

Their work is published in the proceedings of the national academy of sciences and this information is linked on the Borates Today website for those interested in more about this research.

Changing topic, Boron has potential applications in the field of nuclear, wind and solar energy.

In wind turbine technology, new developments have made direct drive turbines a viable option for customers. With rare earth magnets, the weight is reduced and maintenance issues are eliminated making this an attractive opportunity. The most popular generator used in wind turbines is a Boron inside permanent magnet.

These are used in offshore turbines because they produce high power density and a small size with the highest efficiency at any speed. In addition, these generators offer a low lifetime cost for sizable annual production of energy.

Turning to energy storage, in solar systems development, boron has been found to reduce power loss during the transfer from areas with high productivity levels. Producing hydrogen or building up transmission lines makes a significant amount of energy loss that can range between 50 to 60% for instance.

Boron power systems promise to provide emission free energy from smaller reservoirs than hydrogen by using fireproof substances. Boron’s high specific binding energy and the undemanding nature as cargoes of both it and other elemental boron means they will convey points lightly and compactly, even in small shipments.

If successfully demonstrated, boron powered vehicles would also show the ability to run on public roads without depending on unique fueling stations since any residue or waste could be taken away by common freight carriers.

Finally, let’s look at producing rare earth magnets using boron. Rare earth magnets refer to permanent magnets comprising an alloy of neodymium, praseodymium, iron, boron, terbium, dysprosium, or an alloy of samarium gadolinium and cobalt.

With greenhouse gas emissions raising global concerns for sustainable, yet accessible energy, sources for a greener , these minerals have of late found their applications and adaptabilities in an alternate energy ecosystem. And as countries transition from fossil fuels to alternative energy, these rare earth, like neodymium comprising neodymium, iron, boron, boron, and praseodymium, have proven themselves as drivers for clean energy applications in high-tech industries.

And these are definitely in the spotlight, especially as America is aspiring to EV based mobility as a strategic direction.

These neodymium magnets are rare earth magnets comprised of neodymium, iron, boron, and a few transition metals. A neodymium magnet is a permanent magnet that uses the power of neodymium- one of the strongest substances known. It exhibits superior resistance to heat and corrosion and a high tolerance for ferromagnetic materials in close contact with it.

📍 This magnet accounts for most global rare earth permanent magnet production and boron is a strategic mineral also used in conjunction in production.

That’s all from Borates Today for today. For other information, please go to our website to find out more about US rare earths