The “tetratinite” revolution…a “non-existent” substance upsets the scales of the rare element war


The “tetratinite” revolution…a “non-existent” substance upsets the scales of the rare element war

The world views rare elements as no less important than oil, as they represent the backbone of most industries, and are indispensable, and have become a source of strength for those who own them.

In recent years, China has succeeded in controlling the market for rare elements, which raises concerns and fears in Washington, as these elements represent one of the weapons of force in the trade war between the two countries.

In the quest to get out of this impasse, scientists in the United States succeeded in finding a synthetic alternative that would replace the rare elements, and called it “tetrataenite”.

What is a “tetratin”?

In the early ages, many meteorites fell through space towards the Earth, inside of which there was a mixture of basic metals nickel and chromium, which cooled over millions of years.

This process, which lasted for millions of years, created a unique compound with a specific set of properties that make it ideal for use in permanent magnets. Scientists have named this compound tetrataenite.

Permanent magnets are an essential component of a wide range of advanced machines, from electric vehicles to space shuttle turbines.

How will the new compound be obtained?

The new compound represents a revolution in the world of industry, after it became possible to synthesize it in laboratories, which represents a strong blow to the market for rare earths used in the manufacture of permanent magnets.

This achievement could upset the rare earths market, which is currently dominated by China, and shift the industrial balance between Beijing and the West.

What is a permanent magnet?

Returning to the permanent magnet, we will find that it is the basic element in any piece of machinery that operates with electricity, as it is the means that converts electrical energy into kinetic energy or mechanical work.

The permanent magnets used in advanced machinery must be able to withstand extreme pressures and temperatures for long periods of time, and rare earth elements are used to obtain these properties.

These rare elements are found all over the world, but the difficult thing is to extract them, as this requires separating them from each other, and usually they are combined with other elements, all of these operations are very expensive.

Who controls rare earth elements in the world?

Until the eighties of the last century, the United States controlled the market for rare elements, before China entered forcefully and dominated the market, after China found a huge stockpile of these elements within its borders.

From this moment on, American production stopped, and China effectively controlled the market. Today, Beijing controls more than 71% of the world’s extraction and 87% of the world’s processing capacity for rare earths, and it also manufactures more than 80% of the world’s permanent magnets.

Two of these rare earth elements, neodymium and praseodymium, are central to the manufacture of permanent magnets, which means that China now dominates the permanent magnet market as well, making more than 80% of these advanced tools.

What is the secret of America’s fear of China’s control of rare elements?

What confirms the importance of these elements and this industry is that in 2004 the United States had already outsourced the production of magnets used in guidance systems for American cruise missiles and precision bombs to a Chinese company, according to NPR.

The United States lives in an inappropriate strategic position with regard to this vital industry, as it recently resorted to restarting a rare earth mine in California, and is looking for other mines, but the matter is not that easy, as it takes a lot of time.

Does artificial tetranitite solve Washington’s problem soon?

In light of this concern, the discovery of synthetic tetratinite, which may change the rules of the game, emerged. Research says that the compound helps to make a permanent magnet from it for all machines.

When this happens, the United States could fill a large part of the magnet market, and reduce its need for some rare earth elements.

The problem for Washington, however, is that rare earths are not only used to make permanent magnets. They are used in optical fibers, radiation scanners, televisions and in personal electronics.

Importantly, it is still a long time before synthetic tetrinite, or nitrogen tetranitrate, is in a position to disrupt any existing markets, as there is a lot of testing to be done to see if it is as useful as the outer space substance.

And even if it turns out to be a good one, it will take 5 to 8 years before anyone can make a permanent magnet out of it.

America’s heavy reliance on rare earth elements, which are indispensable in the production of wind turbines, electric vehicles, advanced fighter aircraft, and precision-guided munitions has been identified as a serious strategic weakness.

The National Security Strategy recently published by US President Joe Biden’s administration identified supply chains for rare earth elements as a key issue.

A 2021 DoD review concluded that overreliance on China “creates the risk of disruption and politicized trade practices” that would be particularly harmful to commercial sectors.

How did China dominate the rare earth element market?

Going back, we will find that during World War II, US military scientists excelled in the manufacture of rare earth elements, but the situation did not last long when the industry moved out of the country.

On the contrary, China has benefited during the last three decades from this industry, after Deng Xiaoping, the leader of economic reform in China in the 1980s, declared that these minerals would one day be as important as oil, according to Newsweek.

International Energy Agency figures confirm that the risk is most acute for the US economy, as high-tech sectors imported 78% of their rare earth minerals from China between 2017 and 2020, according to the US Geological Survey.

On a macro level, the United States’ continued dependence on Chinese exports is directly related to America’s ability to take an economic hit in times of crisis, as evidenced by the West’s urgent disconnection from Russian energy supplies this year.

Last December, Beijing agreed to merge 3 state companies into the China Rare Earth Crew, an industrial giant responsible for nearly 70% of the country’s rare earth production. Experts in the field saw it as an important step to consolidate China’s dominance in the industry. .

According to “digital journal”, the global rare earth elements market size is estimated at $2.82 billion in 2022 and is expected to reach an adjusted volume of $3.97 million by 2028 at a compound annual growth rate of 5.9% during the forecast period 2022-2028.

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