Japanese Scientist Produces REE Alternative
Source: Fast Company, Jenara Nerenberg (1/3/11)
"Rhodium and silver mixed to create the palladium-like metal."
The world—and particularly Japan—may be in a frenzy over China's newly announced 35% cut in REE exports in the first half of this year. But a Japanese scientist has found one answer: Create the metals artificially.
Professor Hiroshi Kitagawa of Kyoto University has announced that he and his team of researchers have artificially produced a metal similar to palladium, a material commonly used in catalytic converters. In his lab, Kitagawa used a heating method to produce ultramicroscopic metal particles, ultimately mixing the usually resistant rhodium and silver to create the palladium-like metal.
"The orbits of the electrons in the rhodium and silver atoms probably got jumbled up and formed the same orbits as those of palladium," Kitagawa said.
News that REEs can be produced artificially should help blunt some of the overwhelming anxieties related to China's exporting slow down. China stopped supplying the country when the Japanese detained a Chinese fisherman who had roamed into contested waters.
The Japanese are getting serious about alternative sources in other ways as well; Japanese companies are largely responsible for helping to reopen the California rare earth mine in Mountain Pass—North America's largest rare earths mine and the United States' only rare earth mine—with investments topping $100 million.
A continued search for other sources is advisable, as artificial production is not quite ready for commercial scaling. Professor Kitagawa said that he has initiated additional research in partnership with certain companies, but he has not yet disclosed details—only saying that the research will help produce additional kinds of rare earths.