Cerium Oxide Prices Expected to Remain Volatile
January 11, 2012

by Sahely Mukerji, smukerji@glass.com

Even though rare earths element prices have dropped, uncertainty regarding its availability remains going into 2012. Cerium oxide, which is used in the creation of some glass scratch removal products, is among the 17 rare earths elements affected.

"The overall supply of cerium oxide has stabilized due to a decrease in demand worldwide," says Steven White, product specialist at Salem Distributing Co. in Salem, N.C. "As the price continued to rise, most users began to look at how they used cerium and made dramatic steps to reduce their consumption."

Despite unstable prices throughout 2011, rare earths prices are expected to stabilize some in 2012, according to a December 30, 2011, Forbes article. The Chinese control over the rare earths elements is mostly responsible for the price fluctuation.

"China has steadily cut the export of cerium oxide internationally about 35 percent from 2010 levels, which were already 40 percent lower than in 2009," White says. "China is consolidating and closing mines and limiting the mining, processing, and the amounts allowed to ship out of the country and has imposed a $100/kilogram export tax on pure cerium."

China had only exported 11,000 metric tons of rare earths through the first three quarters of 2011, according to the Forbes article.

"I don't know if China actually reduced their output , but the simple fact that they made it very difficult to get cerium and the added export regulations created a waiting period that may have put certain cerium users in a very bad place," says Kerry Wanstrath, president of Glass Technology Inc. in Durango, Colo. "As a user and supplier of cerium, Glass Technology had to get weekly price updates to make sure we were not selling the product below our new cost; this created a very stressful relationship between supplier and end users."

The re-opening of a mine in Mountain Pass, Calif., owned by Molycorp Inc., will be a key factor in stabilizing prices in the United States, says Drew Mayberry, president of Lenoir Mirror in Lenoir, N.C.. That mine shut down in 2002 because of competition from cheaper Chinese suppliers, but resumed operation in December 2010.

For now, cerium suppliers are exploring alternatives, such as cerium impregnated wheels and compounds for slurries that don’t contain cerium oxide, White says. "The alternative compounds so far can approach the speed and quality of cerium oxide, but the best materials cost close to what cerium can be obtained for," he says.

This story is an original story by AGRR™ magazine/glassBYTEs.com™. Subscribe to AGRR™ Magazine.
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