Monday, February 2, 2015

Rare Earths Elements in High-Tech Industries: Market Analysis and Forecasts amid China's Trade Embargo

Rare earth elements are used in CMP polishing slurries and as high-k dielectrics in the semiconductor industry. . Prices of ceria, used in STI planarization slurries, have increased 1300% between 2009 and 2010 because of an embargo by China, home to 97% of the rare earth mines. This report analyzes the impact of the embargo on high-tech industries such as semiconductors, HDDs, LCDs, consumer products, and green technology.

Manufacturers of a broad spectrum of high-tech products have been feeling the impact of price hikes in rare earth element-based processing materials because of the Chinese embargo in late 2010. China, which accounts for 90 percent of global rare earth supplies, has been tightening trade in the strategic metals since late 2010, resulting in an explosion in prices.

Japan accounts for a third of global demand and has been looking to diversify its supply sources, particularly of heavy rare earths such as dysprosium used in magnets.

In semiconductor manufacturing, rare earth materials are used as high-k dielectric films and as polishing materials in CMP. Prices of ceria, used in STI planarization slurries, increased 1300% a few years ago.

Ceria is also used in the polishing of glass disks for hard disk drives (HDDs), LCD panels, and high brightness LEDs (HBLEDs).

Europium is a rare earth used as a phosphor in Cold Cathode Fluorescent Lamps (CCFL) used in backlights for notebooks and in PDP TVs. Price hikes of 170% in the a few years ago for Europium filtered down the supply chain to manufacturers of these end products.

Neodymium is a rare earth element used in magnets for HDDs, wind turbines, and hybrid electric vehicles. Neodymium is already in short supply, and prices have increase 420%.

According to the report, China can supply rare earth products as pure as 99.9999%, while French companies can only produce 99.999% pure products and Japanese firms generally produce 99.9% purity products. With a supply chain of raw material and refining prowess, this is a wake-up call for non-Chinese mining operations, governments, and corporations to take proactive steps to get out of the stranglehold China has on the rest of the world.

A $14 billion market in 2017.

Read the full report: