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Neodymium

Atomic number: 
60
Symbol: 
Nd
Weight: 
144.24
Density: 
7.01
Melting point: 
1 289.15
Boiling point: 
3 347.00
Heat capacity: 
0.19
Electronegativity: 
1.14
Abundance of elements: 
41.50

The term ‘rare earth elements’ (REEs) is a collective name for the 15 elements in the lanthanide group.  The REEs are all metallic in nature and are typically discussed together due to their similar chemical and physical properties.  In addition, with the exception of scandium, they are obtained from the same ore deposits, although the metal ratio does differ considerably between different deposit types.  Neodymium (Nd, atomic number 60) is a light rare earth element.  It is quite abundant, ranking third amongst the REEs, with an average of 16.2% by weight in deposits.
 
Uses
Most neodymium is used in applications of NdFeB magnets (89%).  Specific uses of these magnets include hard disc drives, general-purpose electric motors, MRI scanners, and optical and acoustic applications.  Other uses for neodymium include metallurgical uses other than batteries, autocatalysts, polishing, glass, phosphors, lasers and ceramics. 
 
Particular applications related to energy technologies include the growing demand for permanent magnets for applications such as direct-drive wind turbines, hybrid and electric vehicle motors.

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Supply data

Production
World mine production of REEs for 2012 was estimated by the USGS at 110,000 tonnes. However, this estimate is likely to exclude significant illegal production, of the order 20,000-25,000 tonnes – some of which is processed by official plants.
 
China is the world’s dominant producer– even though China has around half of world reserves. New production outside of China at the reopened Mountain Pass mine in California, USA (previously mined from 1952 to 2002), and increased production at Mount Weld in Australia, is starting to reduce China’s overall dominance in world rare earths supply. No rare earth production is located within the EU.
 
As for neodymium specifically, supply is estimated at 21,000 tonnes per year, 91% of which originates in China. Other significant producers include USA and Australia. Neodymium supply and demand is expected to increase rapidly over the coming decade, at around 7% per year. Supply is expected to keep up with demand, although the market balance will remain reasonably tight. Price for all rare earths spiked in 2011, in response to significant reductions in Chinese rare earth export quotas. However, prices have since crashed, returning to more normal levels.
 
Resource efficiency and recycling
End-of-life recycling rates for neodymium are below 1%, according to a recent report by the UNEP.  However, REEs are recycled from pre-consumer scrap, notably permanent magnet scrap.  For example, in Japan approximately one third of the rare earths used to manufacture permanent magnets went into new scraps, i.e. post-industrial waste streams, which were then recycled. 
 
The recycling of permanent magnets from hard disc drives may provide a recycling opportunity, based on research published by the University of Birmingham and pilot operations by Hitachi.  Long term recycling potential may come from recycling the magnets from wind turbines and hybrid/electric vehicles once they reach the end of their lifetime.
 
Substitutability
Substitution of magnets is not possible for many applications at present; however this is a large area for research.  Specific concerns over neodymium have led to a large amount of research aimed at reducing its use from NdFeB magnets.  Most applications also have possible alternative motor technologies or alternative magnetic materials, although with significant loss of performance. 
 
In some of its low value uses, where neodymium is included within mischmetal, neodymium is considered to be relatively substitutable.  However this application has much lower importance than in magnets.

Material related technologies