12 October 2012 02:09 GMT
06 September 2012 02:49 GMT
31 October 2011 12:20 GMT
By Karl-Erik Stromsta in Vienna
Wednesday, February 06 2013
Rare-earth metals are critical to the production of a number of high-tech products, including permanent-magnet generators (PMG) for wind turbines, of which Finland's The Switch is a leading supplier.
The price of rare-earths surged in early 2011 on fears that China had begun clamping down on their export in order to protect its own high-tech industries.
The spike prodded new non-Chinese producers into the sector, such as Molycorp, and led some in the wind business to question the future of permanent-magnet direct-drive turbines.
But those questions have now been laid to rest, says Mäkinen.
While noting that prices are still above where they were before the rare-earths panic began, Mäkinen adds that “they’re now maybe only 20% over that”.
“We’re practically on a stable level and pricing is slowly going down. So we’re home free on that,” he claims.
Mäkinen ascribes the price run-up to “[Chinese] government policies, partially.
“But even more than that was the hot money pouring into buying stockpiles of permanent-magnet material.”
US-based Molycorp, which made a splash in March 2012 by purchasing rare-earths processor Neo Material Technologies, has since seen its share price crumble by 75% amid falling prices. In December Molycorp fired its chief executive.
A number of positives have emerged from the rare-earth panic, Mäkinen says. For one thing, many consumers of the materials found ways to dramatically reduce their reliance, including the wind business.
“And it also forced us to compare [PMG] technology with other technologies,” he says. “And we came away convinced that this is still the best technology around.”
NEWS FROM OTHER NHST SITES
To protect your subscription investment, we've instituted a security system to protect against the electronic redistribution of copyrighted Rechargenews content. Read more