What is Neodymium?

Critical Metals
Rare Earth Investing

Neodymium is one of the magnet rare earths and a key material in the strongest rare earth magnets available. It is an element that rare earths investors will want to be familiar with.

Known for being a key material in the strongest rare earth magnets currently available, neodymium is certainly an element that rare earths investors will want to be familiar with.

Neodymium-iron-boron magnets are used in a range of modern technological applications. Keep reading for a brief look at what neodymium is, how it’s used and how supply risks for the metal are affecting end users that require this important rare earth.

Neodymium: A little background

Neodymium was discovered in 1885 by Austrian chemist Carl Auer von Welsbach, though its discovery brought about some controversy — the metal cannot be found naturally in its metallic form, and must be separated from didymium.

As the Royal Society of Chemistry notes, that caused skepticism among chemists as to whether it was a unique metal or not. However, it wasn’t long before neodymium was given recognition as an element in its own right. The metal gets its name from the Greek “neos didymos,” which means “new twin.”

Neodymium itself is quite common. In fact, it is twice as common as lead and about half as common as copper in the Earth’s crust. It is typically extracted from monazite and bastnasite ores, but it is also a by-product of nuclear fission.

Neodymium: Key applications

As mentioned, neodymium has incredibly strong magnetic properties, and is used to create the strongest rare earth magnets currently available by weight and volume. Praseodymium, another rare earth, is also often found in such magnets, while dysprosium is added to improve the functionality of neodymium magnets at higher temperatures.

Neodymium-iron-boron magnets have revolutionized many mainstays of modern technology, such as cell phones and computers. Due to how powerful these magnets are even in small sizes, neodymium has made the miniaturization of many electronics possible, as per the Royal Society of Chemistry.

To give a few examples, Apex Magnets notes that neodymium magnets cause the tiny vibrations in mobile devices when a ringer is silenced, and it is only because of neodymium’s strong magnetic properties that MRI scanners can produce an accurate view of the inside of a human body without having to use radiation.

These magnets are also used for graphics in modern TVs; they greatly improve picture quality by accurately directing electrons to the screen in the proper order for maximum clarity and enhanced color.

Additionally, neodymium is a key component in wind turbines, which use neodymium magnets to assist with enhancing turbine power and generating electricity. The metal is most commonly found in direct-drive wind turbines. These function at lower speeds, allowing wind farms to create more electricity than traditional wind turbines, and in turn make a greater profit.

Essentially, since neodymium doesn’t weigh much (even though it generates a significant amount of force) there are fewer parts involved in the overall design, making turbines more efficient energy producers. As demand for alternative energy rises, demand for neodymium is set to increase as well.

Neodymium: Supply risks

Chinese production has accounted for the vast majority of rare earths supply in recent years — roughly 80 percent, according to the US Geological Survey. For a time, China restricted the supply of rare earth materials through export quotas, a move that caused concern in the rest of the world.

However, in 2014, the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled against the quotas, stating that the rules were in violation of China’s role as a WTO member. China’s Ministry of Commerce announced at the end of December 2015 that the country would scrap the limits on exports.

While this development was promising for users outside of China, many market watchers have pointed out that the change in regulations may not address supply problems fully. The country altered its internal tax structure for rare earths in 2015, and it still has internal production quotas.

Outside of China, there are few rare earths producers. Australia is the second-largest rare earths producer in the world after China, and it is home to Lynas (ASX:LYC), which operates the Mount Weld mine and concentration plant. It also hosts Northern Minerals (ASX:NTU), which opened Australia’s first heavy rare earths mine last year. In Burundi, an African country, Rainbow Rare Earths (LSE:RBW) operates the Gakara rare earths mine.

Neodymium: The upshot

Certainly, while rare earths may sometimes be grouped together, neodymium stands out as an especially important material among the rest. Investors may want to keep an eye out for mention of the element when following the rare earths market.

Now that you know more about neodymium, check out these other articles for further insight on what you should know about the rare earths space:

This is an updated version of an article first published by the Investing News Network in 2015.

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Securities Disclosure: I, Amanda Kay, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

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