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has thrown a double whammy at metalcasters. Not only is an esti- mated 95% of the material found within Chinese borders, but several end-use applications for the materi- als are growing by leaps and bounds, including the batteries found in hybrid and electric vehicles, and the emerging markets are gobbling rare earths up faster than China can pump them out. “Many [rare earths] are used in a host of things, from electronics to polishing compounds in glass,” Line- barger said. “[Te market change] has happened so quickly and to such an extent, the cost of the metals is greater than an order of magnitude higher, in some cases 20 times the price of what it was before.” Because rare earths make up only


a fraction of the treatment alloys fer- rous metalcasters buy, this does not translate to nearly such exorbitant price hikes at the foundry. Helm said his company’s costs have increased roughly 20% this year. Robert Peaslee, president of Manitowoc Grey Iron Foundry, Manitowoc, Wis., reports his company has seen an 88% increase in the cost of its magnesium ferrosilicon over the past three years, and that’s not where the problem ends. “We used to get fairly stable pric-


Rare earth elements are used primarily for ductile iron treatment. The materials are also used for the inoculation of gray iron.


vider Miller and Co. LLC, Rosemont, Ill., the atomic structure of each of the elements is similar, making their chemical properties similar. Linebarger said the elements also are found in the same ores in the Earth’s crust. “Once they get the ores out of the


ground, it’s hard to separate [them],” he said. “Tey all come together, which is to say it is difficult to just buy pure lanthanum, for example.” Lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium and neodymium are the most critical rare earth elements for the metalcast- ing industry. Along with a few other


28 | MODERN CASTING August 2011


sporadically used rare earths, they have three roles in ductile iron treatment: • They neutralize the effects of del- eterious or trace elements.


• They nucleate. • They nodularize. According to Linebarger, cerium is the most prominently used, fol- lowed by lanthanum; however, the materials are sold in such a way that the individual breakout of the ele- ments often is unclear.


Rarified Market Conditions The market for rare earth metals


ing for six months to a year. Now, [our suppliers] re-price quarterly,” Peaslee said. “Ferrosilicon is re- priced monthly. They will not guar- antee pricing. If you call someone up now and ask to enter a long term contract, all you hear is chuckling.” Fortunately, most metalcasters sur-


veyed have not reported an actual lack of availability of materials containing rare earth elements. But at least one Pennsylvania foundry reports that it has not been able to purchase some inoculants containing rare earth ele- ments due to shortages or manufac- turers discontinuing production. And Peaslee said his requests for an uptick in supply have been denied. Linebarger said Miller and Co.


currently is not having trouble making the products available, but that could change. “If China continues to use more


than they can produce, there may be a


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