Neodymium is a rare-earth element with a dark and silvery appearance. On the periodic table, it belongs to the lanthanide family of rare-earth metals that include 14 other elements. Neodymium is represented by the symbol Nd and its atomic number is 60.
Neodymium would never have been found if not for the discovery of cerium. In 1839, a man named Carl Gustav Mosander worked with a sample of cerium when he extracted a blend of lanthanoid elements called didymium for the first time. In the following years, different elements were pulled from didymium including samarium in 1879 and gadolinium in 1880.
Five years later, another new metal was obtained from didymium and this time it was neodymium. Karl Auer was working in Vienna when he made the discovery. He was convinced it was an unknown metal after he examined neodymium with the help of atomic spectroscopy. Since Auer was a student at the time, many established scientists did not buy into the existence of the new metal. However, Auer's mentor, the renowned German chemist Robert Bunsen, immediately acknowledged the discovery.
The first pure sample of neodymium was not produced until 1925.
The first commercial application of neodymium was to use the metal in glass tinting. Many of the resulting colors were green, blue or lavender. While coloring glass with neodymium started in 1927, it was not until 1983 that the metal was discovered to be extremely useful in magnets. This led to world-changing technological changes in later years.
Neodymium is a silvery-white metal. It is soft and only slightly malleable with a density of 7.01 g/cm3. The metal has a melting point of 1,024°C (1,875°F) and a boiling point of 3,030°C (5,490°F). It is relatively easy to shape or cut.
Neodymium reacts rapidly with air and will flake and tarnish quickly. Air can also give the metal a yellow coating. It is slow to react with cold water but that reaction speeds up when it comes into contact with hot water. When the metal is exposed to water or acids, neodymium reacts and creates hydrogen gas.
The metal has magnetic qualities. At room temperature, neodymium is paramagnetic but turns into an antiferromagnet when temperatures drop below −253.2 °C (-423,76 F). It catches fire at 150 °C (302 F). There are 5 naturally occurring isotopes of neodymium that are stable. The most abundant is 142Nd at 27.2%.
Neodymium is only non-toxic when ingested as insoluble salts. Ingested soluble neodymium salts are mildly toxic. However, this dust can also be an irritant if it is somehow transferred to the eyes. The deadliest aspect of neodymium occurs in the workplace where it can be inhaled. With long-term exposure, the metal can cause lung embolisms and liver damage.
Neodymium magnets are under increasing scrutiny for health risks. Their strong magnetic fields can interfere with pacemakers and other medical devices. The magnets can also cause a rash in people with nickel allergies. Since the magnets are also remarkably powerful, the unwary are often injured when two neodymium magnets clash together.
Neodymium is among the most abundant of rare earth elements. The metal is slightly less abundant than zinc and copper, accounting for roughly 12 to 24 parts per million in the Earth's crust. Overall, neodymium is the 27th most abundant chemical element.
In the past, California in the US produced the most neodymium but today, most of the metal's mining operations can be found in China. It rarely occurs in deposits of pure neodymium. Instead, the metal occurs within the ores of minerals like monazite and bastnäsite.
Neodymium plays an essential role in many fields. After the discovery in 1983 that the metal could produce extremely strong permanent neodymium iron boron magnets, a lot of technology lost its bulkiness. This miniaturisation occurred mostly in electronics and some examples include microphones, mobile phones, electric musical instruments and loudspeakers. The magnets are also used in the car industry in windscreen wipers and in turbines on wind farms.
Neodymium is still used in the glass industry. Apart from coloring glass, the metal is part of the process to create protective glass used during risky procedures like welding. Another use that involves glass is certain components used in tanning booths. Neodymium glass is also employed to make laser pointers used in eye and cosmetic surgery.
Neodymium does not occur naturally in large deposits of its own. It is more commonly found within deposits of the minerals bastnäsite and monazite. Once these minerals are mined, neodymium is extracted by ion exchange and solvent techniques. The metal can also be produced by reducing anhydrous halides with calcium metal.
China is currently the biggest producer of neodymium. Other countries that mine neodymium include the United States, India, Brazil, Sri Lanka, and Australia. In 2020, China produced 26,000 tonnes of NdPr oxide and the world supply stood at 46,000 tonnes.
Neodymium won a following ever since it was identified as an essential ingredient in permanent magnets. Since this type of technology is growing at a rapid clip, the metal's demand is only expected to show an upward trend for years to come. The metal's useful features in other fields also ensure that the consumption of neodymium remains a global need.
Rare earth metals, neodymium included, remain a sought-after investment. There are three main ways for investors to become involved with neodymium. One can invest in funds, stocks, and rare-earth recycling companies.
There are no futures available for neodymium. Among the biggest publically trading companies for stocks is Malaysia-based Lynas Rare Earths (LYSCF). For investors who are not interested in individual stocks, there is also the option to obtain funds and the most notable is the VanEck Vectors Rare Earth/Strategic Metals ETF (REMX).
Since China is the biggest producer of neodymium, the country's supply, behavior, and choices in the rare-earth metals industry can and often do influence the price of neodymium more than anything else.
The price of neodymium magnets is also affected by different commercial sectors; most notably the wind power and electric vehicle industries. The main driver that determines whether these magnets become more costly is demand. Since the world is moving towards becoming more energy-efficient, the demand for neodymium-based magnets are ever-increasing and contributing to the rising prices that are being seen today.
Investors who are interested in neodymium can view online data, forecasts, and historical charts of the metal's performance going back hours, weeks, months and years. Online market sites follow live fluctuations of prices of neodymium as well.
The cost of rare earth magnets that contain neodymium is on the rise due to the ever-increasing demand in the technology sector. Prices for these magnets vary based on the manufacturer but the asking price has been steadily increasing. Neodymium market prices have fluctuated wildly in the past decade, ranging from around $50,000 USD per tonne ($50/kg) to nearly $140,000 USD per tonne ($140/kg).
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