The pending Rare Earth Metals Shortage is a reason for concern for everyone! Effecting everything from fluorescent light bulbs to hybrid cars to national security.
What are Rare Earth Elements ?
While these rare earth elements are not actually “rare” in the environment, nor are they “earth”, the name dates to the 18th and 19th centuries, when the elements were first isolated out of actually rare minerals. “Rare earth” stuck, but the elements themselves turned out to be pretty common, mixed in small concentrations in rocks worldwide.
A brief history of Rare Earth Elements:
Historically, unstable supply and demand and significant price fluctuations have been the norm in the rare earth elements (or rare earth metals) market. The 1980’s saw a rapid increasing demand, followed by a substantial over supply in the early 1990’s. Until the early 1990’s most of the world’s supply of rare earth elements (or rare earth metals) where mined in the USA. China entered the market in the early 90’s and by the late 1990’s China’s low cost production had flooded the market and driven most US companies out of the rare earth mining business. China today produces more that 95% of the world’s rare earth metals supply. Over the last few years, China has started cutting the amount of rare earth metals that they export each year, while global demand has been increasing annually, with the increased demand of rare earth metals used in everything from fluorescent light bulbs, wind turbines, telecommunications, defense technologies, magnets and more.
How do Rare Earth Elements Effect Fluorescent Lighting ?
Rare earth phosphors are refined from rare earth ore and are a key component of general service fluorescent light bulbs. Within the fluorescent tubes, cathodes sealed at each end of the fluorescent tubes emit a flow of electrons that reacts with the mercury vapor already present inside the bulb. The reaction results in the emission of invisible ultraviolet (UV) radiation. To convert the UV radiation into visible light, lightbulb manufacturers coat the inside of the tubes with powdered phosphors. Phosphors are elements that fluoresce (or glow) when struck by UV rays, generating visible light.
Halophosphor are another phosphor that can be used in fluorescent light bulbs. Halophosphors are more abundant and much less costly than rare earth phosphors, but they are less efficient and produce an overall lower quality of light. By coating a bulb with a layer of rare earth phosphors in addition to or instead of halophosphors can increase efficacy, while dramatically improving color quality and lumen maintenance. The blend of phosphors used by manufacturers determines in part the color correlated temperature (CCT) and the color rendition index (CRI). Generally in high performance fluorescent bulbs, manufacturers employ a blend of 3 rare earth phosphors: Yttrium (Y) Europium (Eu) and Terbium (Tb). This blending of the phosphors has become common in the fluorescent lamps we normally use today and is known as “Triband” or Triphosphors”
Possibly up to 50% of the rare earth phosphors supplies are used in fluorescent light bulbs.
While it is hard to account for exact market usage, it is estimated that approximately 50% of the rare earth phosphors refined are used in fluorescent light bulbs. The phosphors that is used in fluorescent bulbs is refined to a powdery texture similar in consistency to bread flour.The prices for some of the rare earth elements have increased over 500% in just one year. The rare earth market will ultimately correct itself over time with new large scale mining operations planned in Canada and Western Australia. A mine in the Mojave desert is restarting after a decade long shutdown, with a much more effecient extraction technology then they had 10 years ago, but these increased supplies may be some time off before the finished products reach the market. For the foreseeable future though, the shortage of these rare earth phosphors will cause a problem for manufacturers of tri-coated linear, plug-in and spiral shaped fluorescent light bulbs.
Call for your Free copy of an 11 page report.
Call a Frontier Lighting store near you for your Free copy of an 11 page report that explains in detail the current rare earth phosphors shortage.
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