Carl Auer von Welsbach



Carl Auer von Welsbach was born in Septembeer 1858 In Vienna. He was a chemist and engineer with unique talent of understanding how to pursue fundamental science and, at the same time, of commercializing his discoveries in science into successful products. In other words he was both scientist and inventor.

He studied math, chemistry, physics and thermodynamics in technical University of Vienna and the University of Heidelberg. He started to work with chemical separation methods for investigations on rare earth elements in 1882. Auer developed a new method for separating Didymium, based on crystallisation of didymium ammonium nitrate solution. He gave the pink components the name Neodidymium (which was later changed to neodymium), and the green component, the name Praseodymium. In 1885 he produced the first incandescent mantle out of lanthanum oxide. In his original production that he patented in 1885, he used a mixture of 60% magnesium oxide, 20% lanthanum oxide and 20% yttrium oxide. These mantles which were also called “Auerlicht” gave off cold-greenish light and had a short length of use. Auer improved his production to stronger mantles with whiter lights by using a new mixture of 99% thorium dioxide and 1% cerium dioxide. His new mantle was commercialized in 1892 and was quickly spread out in the streets of Europe. Meanwhile he developed a crystallization method for preparation of pure Thorium oxide. He also found the effect of the purity of the thorium oxide on its light emission.


Carl Auer von Welsbach was Robert Bunsen’s student, and he had learned from him how to produce sparks from cerium by mechanical means. In 1903, he patented his pyrophoric cerium-iron alloy containing 70% cerium and 30% Iron for spark production.

In 1905 Auer wrote a report on the results of the spectroscopic analysis which showed Ytterbium is made up of two elements. He named the elements after Aldebaranium and Cassiopeium. He also tried to develop separation method based on the partial solubility of these elements oxalate. Moreover, he successfully performed large scale chemical separation of radioactive substances.

At that time Cerium was produced based on the electrolysis from the fused salts ( rare earth fluorides). He investigated the use of Cerit and Allenite minerals as source substances for the electrolysis. The production process of cerium was further improved by using Monazite and also the residues from the incandescent mantle production.

Beside the discovery of 4 rare earth elements Neodymium, Praseodymium, Ytterbium, and Lutetium, he also produced Ionium (known today as Thorium-230) .

Auer is particularly known for his discoveries and inventions on the rare earth metals, however he is also well known for production of metal filament light bulbs. His improvement in osmium filaments made the path towards the tungsten filament and the modern light bulb invention.

Carl Auer von Welsbach died on 1929 at the age of 70. His unique talents and qualities has ensured him a prominent lasting place both in science and industrial history.




E-bikes and rare earths


1.  Types of e bikes / electric two-wheelers

Electric two-wheelers/bikes are powered by a combination of manpower and electric power, or electric power only. They include bicycle-style electric bikes (BSEB), namely pedelecs (pedal assisted bikes), or throttle-controlled e-bikes, where pedaling is not required, and scooter-style electric bikes (SSEB), i.e. electric scooters and electric motorbikes (Fu, 2013))

2.  Current e-bike adoption

The largest market for e-bikes is China (Hoganas, 2010; Statistica, 2015), followed by Europe, Japan and US (INSG, 2014). The electric bicycle boom in China was triggered by local bans of motorcycles motivated by the aim to reduce air pollution and traffic congestion, a well as safety concerns (Yang, 2010). However, legislation discouraging the use of e-bikes was put in place in some cities, including bans of-e-bikes in some cities and the introduction of e-bike licenses (Shaw and Constantinides, 2012), most likely due to safety concerns. A survey conducted in Shanghai revealed that e-bikes are mostly used for commuting, closely followed by shopping trips (An et al., 2013). The main motivation stated in the paper was that e-bikes were “more labour-saving than bike and more convenient and faster than bus” (An et al., 2013). The typical Chinese bicycle looks like a cross between an e-bike and a scooter (Zeit Online, 2013).

The largest European markets for e-bikes are Germany, the Netherlands, France and Italy (Bike Europe, 2014). A study on early adopters in Austria found that users there were mainly aged 60 plus and used e-bikes for leisure trips (Wolf and Seebauer, 2014). With that image in mind, some cyclists may consider e-bikes a lazy option -  see for example the following blogs: London Cyclist (2012); npr (2014). However, according to (2013), at least in Germany, age is becoming a less important factor in the definition of the target group for e-bikes.

3.    Technology, Magnets, RE content

E-bike motors constitute an important application of NdFeB magnets. They were responsible for around 10% of the neodymium use in 2010, with a similar percentage projected for 2030 (Bast et al., 2014). The motors are either mounted on a hub of the bike – the most common type – or between the pedals (so-called mid-drive system). In accordance with the expectance of an expanding e-bike market, the demand for NdFeB magnets for use in e-bikes is expected to grow (Bast et al., 2014; Shaw and Constantinides, 2012). Estimates for the weights of magnets used in e-bikes range from 60 g to 350 g (Shaw and Constantinides, 2012). Zepf (2013) assumes an average of 100 g per magnet used for e-bike applications, Habib and Wenzel (2014) assume 300 g. The rare earth content of the magnets is estimated at 30% Nd and 4% Dy (Binnemans et al., 2013; Zepf, 2013).

However, research aiming at the replacement of magnets relying on rare earths is underway. A US start-up company won a prize for its patented switched reluctance motor intended for use in e-bikes, an alternative to motors based on permanent magnets (Wang, 2012; Yale Global Online, 2012). However, no evidence of those types of e-bikes on the market could be found. Other researchers work on rare-earth free nanocrystalline permanent magnets for e-bikes, with a public demonstration planned for June 2015 (Archer-Boyd, 2015).

4.   Environmental considerations

Environmental considerations regarding e-bikes focus around use-phase impacts and impacts associated with lead batteries rather than rare earth use.

Chinese bikes often contain lead acid batteries, which do not have a long battery life and are not disposed of in an environmentally sound manner (Zeit Online, 2013). The bikes have a lifetime of approximately four years during which the lead acid batteries are replaced five to seven times (Zeit Online, 2013). E-bikes sold on the European market are mainly equipped with lithium ion batteries.

Environmental benefits of e-bike usage depend, amongst other factors, on intensity of usage and the “direction of modal shift” –  see Wolf and Seebauer (2014). i.e., the shift in impact will be different depending on whether conventional bikes, walks, cars, or public transport options are replaced. According to Bike Europe, e-bike sales in Europe have affected sales for conventional bikes (Bike Europe, 2014) – this however, is not directly transferable to shifts in user behavior. In their Austrian study, Wolf and Seebauer (2014) found that carbon-intensive travel modes on commuting trips were barely substituted (Wolf and Seebauer, 2014). According to Zeit Online (2013), traditional bikes are becoming less popular as a transport option in China; cars and e-bikes are on the rise. Results of a survey conducted with e-bike users in Shanghai by An et al. (2013) indicate that the survey participants would mainly shift to bus (55%) or conventional bikes (33%) if an e-bike ban was introduced. Similar findings are reported by Cherry et al. (2009), who found that Chinese e-bike users mainly shifted from, and would mainly shift back to, buses or bikes.

The modal shifts associated with e-bike can differ between cultures, social groups and change over time, since the market is still developing.

5.     References

An, K., Chen, X., Xin, F., Lin, B., Wei, L., 2013. Travel Characteristics of E-bike Users: Survey and Analysis in Shanghai. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences 96, 1828–1838.

Archer-Boyd, A., 2015. Positive solutions to Europe’s magnet problem.

Bast, U., Blank, R., Buchert, M., Elwert, T., Finsterwalder, F., et al. ., 2014. Recycling von Komponenten un strategischen Metallen aus elektrischen Fahrantrieben: Kennwort: MORE (Motor Recycling), pre-release.

Bike Europe, 2014. All Signs Are Green Thanks To E-Bikes. Accessed 13th Jan 2015.

Binnemans, K., Jones, P.T., Blanpain, B., van Gerven, T., Yang, Y., Walton, A., Buchert, M., 2013. Recycling of rare earths: a critical review. Journal of Cleaner Production 51, 1–22.

Cherry, C.R., Weinert, J.X., Xinmiao, Y., 2009. Comparative environmental impacts of electric bikes in China. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment 14 (5), 281–290.

Fu, A., 2013. China electric two-wheelers: Market analysis, trends, issues and perspectives.

Habib, K., Wenzel, H., 2014. Exploring rare earths supply constraints for the emerging clean energy technologies and the role of recycling. Journal of Cleaner Production 84, 348–359.

Hoganas, 2010. The electric bicycle race. Metal Powder Report 65 (5), 14–15.

INSG, 2014. The Global E-Bike Market: INSG Secretariat Briefing Paper, 6 pp. Accessed 27 April 2015.

London Cyclist, 2012. Electric Bikes: It’s not Cheating, it’s Transport. Accessed 13th Jan 2015., 2013. Bericht zur Studie ‘Konsumwelt 2013: E-Bikes’ Valide Marktdaten durch eine strategische Marktanalyse. Accessed 13th January 2015.

npr, 2014. Electric Bikes, On A Roll In Europe, Start To Climb In U.S. Accessed 13th January 2014.

Shaw, S., Constantinides, S., 2012. Permanent Magnets: the Demand for Rare Earths: 8th International Rare Earths Conference, 33 pp. Accessed 27 April 2015.

Statistica, 2015. Projected worldwide sales of electric bicycles in 2018, by region (in million units). Accessed 13th January 2015.

Wang, U., 2012. An electric motor that’s ditched the rare earth materials: Gigaom Blog.

Wolf, A., Seebauer, S., 2014. Technology adoption of electric bicycles: A survey among early adopters. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice 69, 196–211.

Yale Global Online, 2012. No Rare Earths in Next Generation Electric Vehicles.

Yang, C.-J., 2010. Launching strategy for electric vehicles: Lessons from China and Taiwan. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 77 (5), 831–834.

Zeit Online, 2013. Velophil – Das Fahrrad-Blog. Chinas E-Bike-Boom auf Kosten der Umwelt. Accessed 13th Jan 2015.

Zepf, V., 2013. Rare Earth Elements: A New Approach to the Nexus of Supply, Demand and Use: Exemplified along the Use of Neodymium in Permanent Magnets. Doctoral Thesis accepted by the University of Augsburg, Germany. Springer Theses, 162 pp. Accessed 27 April 2015.