Neodymium is the 60th element on the periodic table and the primary material for high-power, Rare-Earth Magnets. These Neodymium magnets have about ten times the power of regular ferrite magnets.
Of late, however, Neodymium has been undergoing some rather abrupt pricing changes. In the past, it was a moderately expensive element, which kept high power magnets on the pricey side. But once China’s mining industry and production capabilities came up to speed, the price dropped dramatically and soon China had a lock on the mining market. Most domestic neodymium mining closed down.
Neodymium is not rare, it is found all throughout the Earth’s crust. But finding deposits worth mining can be tricky. China soon reduced exporting neodymium to develop their magnet industry. This meant that while getting raw neodymium was difficult, cheap rare-earth magnets were soon widely available. Rare-earth magnets become so affordable that they are almost like toys. In fact, many toys do employ neodymium magnets and would not work with normal magnets. Neodymium also pops up in other ways: high power remote-control toys use motors with neodymium magnets. Neodymium is also used in many high capacity batteries, and power generating windmills require them for the highest output.
But of late there have been issues with magnet supply – we’re not running out – but China kept Neodymium prices under heavy control while their magnet industry developed. At the beginning of this year, China loosened those price controls. As a result the price of neodymium skyrocketed – as much as quintupled since the year began.
Local vendors tried to keep their prices down as long as they could, but they could not absorb price increase after price increase. In the past month alone Spectrum Scientifics has gotten three notifications from vendors that product prices would be increasing as the magnets in them became more expensive.
Will this sort itself out? It is hard to say and at Spectrum we are science-lovers, not miners or economists. Some have cried ‘Peak Neodymium!’ over the price increases but other assure us that there are deposits all around the world, but then another element needed for Neodymium magnets, Dysprosium, becomes a factor as there are very few deposits to mine. Solutions may be found but at present the industry is lagging.
Sadly, this does mean some toys we sell at Spectrum Scientifics will go up in price, as will a lot of other things. Did you know a Toyota Prius needs almost a kilogram of Neodymium?