China dominates the industry, making up 97% of the world’s rare earths production. China has begun to restrict exports of rare earths, and late last year unofficially blocked rare earth shipments to Japan during a territorial dispute. Since then, other countries—Japan in particular, which accounts for one-third of global use—have been looking for new sources of rare earths.
Phosphor is a rare earth mineral and it is visually seen in each fluorescent bulb in the form of the white coating that you see on the inside of the glass tube. Prices of heavy rare earths, which are more expensive than the light elements due to their scarcity, have soared by up to five times since the start of 2011 and the light rare earths have jumped by two to three times during the same period.
Researchers have found high concentrations of rare earth metals, essential materials for making nearly all high-tech electronics, in mud on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, according to study published online earlier this week in Nature Geoscience. These huge deposits could help satisfy ever-increasing demand for rare earth metals, but there are major questions about the economic viability and ecological effects of mining the seabed.
Prior to this discovery, manufacturers and environmentalists alike expressed concern over the limited and dwindling supply of rare earth minerals. However, experts report that the minerals found in the Pacific may reinforce known land supply by 1,000 times.
An area of one square kilometer (0.4 square miles) near one sample site in the central North Pacific could fulfill 20% of the world’s annual demand, estimated earth scientist Yasuhiro Kato, a member of the research team.Extracting the rare earths from the mud should be relatively easy, Kato told Reuters. ”Sea mud can be brought up to ships and we can extract rare earths right there using simple acid leaching,” he said. ”[W]ithin a few hours we can extract 80–90 percent of rare earths from the mud.”
Some experts doubt that mining rare earths from the ocean floor will be economically feasible. Getting mud to the surface would be an expensive process for a relatively small yield. While the mud may have rare earths concentrations similar to some Chinese mines, industry analyst Gareth Hatch told Nature‘s Great Beyond blog, those mines only turn a profit because it’s easy to extract rare earth metals from the clay there; most mines have concentrations between 3% and 10%. Extracting these rare earths, too, could cost more than the resulting products will sell for.
Green Electrical Supply has aggressively worked to manage the multiple price increases we have seen from our manufacturers. Unfortunately, we can no longer offer our fluorescent products at our old price levels. We will continue to do all we can to keep our selling prices competitive and our shelves stocked to promptly supply your needs. Green Electrical Supply will continue to provide only the highest quality fluorescent lamps and will NOT look for ways to reduce pricing by lowering quality. We appreciate your understanding and support as everyone works through this current pricing volatility.