Monday, March 18, 2013

Quantity Estimates of Neodymium Used in Magnets in 2012

An exhausted Internet search was done to try to determine 2012 global use of neodymium in magnets found in the following five product categories: hard drives; electric vehicles; electric bicycles; wind electric generators; and mobile phones.  Determining the quantity of neodymium used in these products depended on finding the following estimates:  1) a reasonable range of the 2012 unit sales in each product category and 2) a reasonable range of the quantity of neodymium used in each unit sold.  What follows describes what was found for each category.

A.  Hard Drives.  2012 global hard drive sales was settled at between 900 million and 1.04 billion.  A range of neodymium used in hard drives was settled at between 2 and 6 grams.  This gives a total of between 1,800 and 6,240 metric tons of neodymium used in hard drives sold in 2012.

(For each product category, an exhaustive search of the Internet was done to find sources for product sales and for the amounts of neodymium used in the products.  These sources can be difficult to find, but sources were found for the data needed for each product.  Sources include: individual analysts/scientists estimates; market research product synopsizes (no reports were purchased or any other payments made to find the information in this blog article); news releases; company data; government data; conference presentation slides; trade associations; and research institutes.  I settled on the data to use from these source sites based on my subjective evaluation of the likelihood the sources and their data were reliable and what was presented was sensible and consistent with other data and my analysis of what I was finding.  Further details on the sources, data, and analysis used can be provided.  Click “View my complete profile” to the right to email me.)

B.  Electric Vehicles.  Global sales for electric vehicles (all electric and hybrid) were settled at between 1,775,000 and 2,427,000.  A range of neodymium use per vehicle was settled at between 0.193 and 1.8 kg.  This gives a total of between 343 and 4,369 metric tons of neodymium used in electric vehicles sold in 2012.

C.  Electric Bicycles.  A range of 2012 unit global sales of electric bicyles was settled on as between 30 and 34 million.  And, I settled on a range of neodymium used in each bicycle as between 85 and 115 grams.  With these amounts for electric bicycles sold and neodymium used per bicycle, and doing the math, gives a total of between 2,550 and 3,910 metric tons of neodymium used in electric bicycles sold in 2012.

D.  Wind Electric Generators.  The range of 29,946 to 68,250 megawatts of additional wind power generated in 2012 compared to 2011 was settled on.  And, based on data found in my searching, 15% of this additional power is estimated to have been delivered by generators using neodymium-base magnets, or a range of 4,492 to 10,238 megawatts.  A range of 0.12 to 0.4 metric tons was settled on as the amount of neodymium used for generating one megawatt of power from a wind electric generator.  This gives a total range of 539 to 4,095 metric tons of neodymium used in 2012 installed neodymium-based wind electric generators.

E.  Mobile Phones.  The 2012 sales of mobile phones (cell and smart) range was settled at between 1.6 and 1.75 billion units.  The range of grams used in each phone was settled at between 0.05 and 0.1 grams.  This gives a range of 80 to 175 metric tons of neodymium used in mobile phones sold in 2012.

Adding up the low and high neodymium-use range for each of the above five product categories in which neodymium is used gives a low amount of 5,312 metric tons and a high amount of 18,789 metric tons of neodymium used in these products sold in 2012. 

Some conclusions from the above work are:

1.  Too many data variables, gaps, and uncertainties and needed estimates and assumptions exist to ever be able to determine one amount for total neodymium used in a year with any degree of confidence that the amount is correct.  However, a range can be determined.
2.  Whenever an element (e.g. the rare earth element neodymium) or a chemical compound is used in multiple products, similar uncertainties are likely in estimating the quantity of that element or chemical compound that was used during the year.  A range is best provided.
3.  Using persistent and skillful search and the right analytical skills, the Internet can be a source of data for quantities of chemicals used.
4.  Chemical use data for a year can be determined from two sets of data:  sales and unit quantities.  The accuracy of the chemical use data depends on the accuracy of these two data sets.
5.  The use data is for product sales.  It does not include neodymium mined but not used in the products represented by the sales data, in products made but not sold, and neodymium lost as waste in the manufacturing process.