The curious case of dysprosium

It took 30 years for Francois de Boisbaudran to separate Dysprosium oxide from its mineral and he rightly named the element after the greek word Dysprositos meaning  “hard to get at”[1,2].  It is now more than a century since he has discovered dysprosium and he has been quite prophetic in naming the element. This blog post will talk about two interesting reports which predict stark demand-supply imbalance even in the short term.

Dysprosium is deployed in numerous applications like wind turbines, commercial lightings, hard discs etc.  The US Department of Energy’s “Critical material strategy” report [3] estimated the demand of a material using 3 key factors: Deployment, Market share, Material intensity*.  Based on these 3 key factors, they developed 4 different trajectories.   They developed these 4 trajectories by assuming two diametrically opposite cases of high market share, high level of global deployment and low market share and low level of global deployment. Top these 2 scenarios with low and high material intensity for each and you get 4 trajectories. Trajectory A and B represents the low penetration case and the C and D represents the high penetration case. The trajectories are nicely summed up in Fig 1.

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Fig 1: Explanation of trajectories from DOE’s “Critical material strategy” report of 2010 [3]

I had to pen down about these trajectories because what happens next will surprise you (sorry for the buzzfeed style).  As you can see from Fig 2, global demand exceeds projected supply in 2015 in all four cases!

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Fig 2: Dysprosium oxide future supply and demand prediction by DOE’s 2010 report [3]

 

If that is not a reason in itself for recycling, let me bolster my argument with another report.  A master thesis report titled “Can dysprosium shortage threaten green economy?” made in collaboration between Utrecht University and Fraunhofer ISI predicts that even after assuming 80% recycling of Dysprosium, a shortage can still be expected in short term [4]. The report systematically analyzes all the possible applications of dysprosium and makes 2 extreme cases of lower bound and upper bound. The former is when the use of dysprosium is at the lowest possible amount (3.55 wt%) in the magnets and the latter is at the highest possible amount (7.7 wt%) of usage. Growth of every single sector is predicted from various reports and the global supply is estimated based on various data available.  Fig 4 left) and right) are the estimates of dysprosium oxide demand in the abovementioned lower and upper bound scenario. Industrial motors, hybrid electric cars, electric bicycles and multi-layer ceramic capacitor are some of the important applications demanding dysprosium. At the lowest bound case, we can expect a 14,000 tons demand of dysprosium oxide by 2050 and the highest, a 60,000 tons  demand of the same.

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Fig 4 left) & right) Estimate dysprosium oxide demand in lower and upper bound scenario viz until 2050 [4]

They have also made similar figures assuming 80% recycling is carried out. What happens when the supply for each year is pitted against demand? Your guess is right. Even in the low bound, high recycling scenario there is a demand supply imbalance with demand exceeding the supply.  So dear readers, the need to recycle rare earth elements can’t be overemphasized more but when it comes to Dysprosium, there is this absolute need to recycle and also the necessity to go beyond recycling!

  1. http://www.livescience.com/38292-dysprosium.html
  2. http://www.rsc.org/periodic-table/element/66/dysprosium
  3. http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/edg/news/documents/criticalmaterialsstrategy.pdf
  4. https://www.academia.edu/1646290/Can_a_dysprosium_shortage_threaten_the_green_economy
  5. * Definitions of the terms used in DOE report.

Deployment: total units of the generic clean energy technology in a given year

Market Share: the percentage of installations captured by a specific clean energy technology

Material intensity: demand for the material in each unit of the clean energy component

 

 

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One thought on “The curious case of dysprosium

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