Investing in Cerium

cerium commodity

Cerium, like its neighboring element lanthanum, is a soft silvery metal that oxidizes quickly when exposed to air. Identified by the symbol Ce and the number 58 on the periodic chart, this metal was named after the dwarf planet Ceres which had been discovered in 1801.

Of all the rare earth elements, cerium is the most common. It is used in many applications both because it has been a reasonably priced element, and because it has so many uses.

Cerium in History

Cerium was first discovered in 1803 by three different chemists. The name given it by Jöns Jakob Berzelius is the one that stuck. It wasn't until the late 1830 that the first nearly pure samples of cerium were finally extracted. In general, it was primarily of interest to scientists in its pure form, especially as scratching the pure metal with a sharp object had the ability to light the metal on fire.

Cerium was usually left in combination with lanthanum and other trace rare earth elements in a form known as mischmetal. Because of this metal's ability to form sparks, it was combined with iron, the only other metal that forms sparks. The primary use was in flints for lighters.

In the early 1900s cerium oxide was used with other lanthanide oxides in the carbon arc lights used by the motion picture industry. This use continues to this day.

Current Sources of Cerium

Cerium is found in allanite, monazite, bastnasite, hydroxylbastnasite, rhabdophane, zircon, and synchysite. Of these ores, the most commonly used commercially are monazite, allanite and bastnasite.

The largest deposit of these rare earth elements (REE) are found in Bayan Obo, China, in combination with iron-rich deposits. Brazil's Araxa region has deposits about 17% of the size if China's. The U.S. Mountain Pass deposit is 3% the size of China's deposit. Australia has three known deposits which contain about 4% as much REE as China. And Kenya is known to have a deposit, but it is insignificant in size compared to China's abundance.

How Cerium is Being Used Today

There are numerous current commercial applications that use cerium. In steel manufacturing, the addition of cerium removes free oxygen and sulfur molecules so they become stable oxysulfides. It also ties up undesirable trace elements such as lead and antimony which can have a negative impact on the final quality of the steel.

Cerium is used to help stainless steel harden and cast iron to remain malleable.

Cerium acts as a catalyst. It is added to diesel fuel to increase power, rate of burn and reduce emissions.

Cerium plays an important role in glass making. Medical glassware and windows for use in aerospace applications contain cerium to block ultra violet light. Television glass contains cerium to prevent discoloration of the glass over time. Yet, it has also been used as a coloring agent, in combination with titanium oxide, to turn glass a golden yellow.

Cerium oxide is one of the most important elements of glass polishing formulas. It is especially valuable for optic glass applications. Ceria, the cerium oxide, is a key component of catalytic converters. It plays a role as a stabilizer over the large aluminum oxide area, while it promotes the water to gas shift reaction. It acts as an oxygen storage component while enhancing the capability of rhodium to produce NOX reduction reactions.

Cerium is also important in the production of plastics. It prevents polymers from darkening when exposed to sunlight and plays a dominant role in the conversion of ethylbenezene into styrene. It also enhances color stability.

Cerium is used in permanent magnets, though this use is declining.

Cerium is combined with carbon in carbon-arc lamps, still used commonly on movie sets and in television studios.

Cerium is used in dental ceramics.

Economic Value of Cerium

Cerium has traditionally been one of the lowest priced lanthanides. As of October 2009, the price was around $8/kg. As of June the prices were still around $10/kg. Since China announced its intentions to limit the release of rare earth metals, the price has shot up to around $45/kg.

Cerium's true economic value stems from the fact that it is important to so many industries. It plays a vital role in the production of automobiles.

How to Invest in Cerium

One way to invest in cerium is to invest in the mining companies that are developing rare earth deposits. While the major producer is Bao Steel in the Peoples' Republic of China, but this government controlled company hasn't even stayed on China's own stock market exchange in Shanghai. Investing in this company is difficult.

China's recent tightening of its exports of rare earth elements has created a renewed interest in those mining companies who have monazite, allanite and bastnäsite deposits among their holdings to begin developing these sources of rare earth elements. Investing in companies that actively developing their ability to extract rare earth elements from the ores they hold should be a good investment as long as the companies are solid.

Consider investing in companies that supply cerium in its various forms to the manufacturing industry. While these companies can be affected negatively by a shortfall in rare earth mineral supplies, the fact that these companies form part of the supply chain to industry makes investment worth considering.

Future demand for Cerium

Demand for cerium, unlike demand for the other rare earth elements is expected to decrease. This is primarily because its use in permanent magnets has been replaced by the more effective neodymium, and demand for use in the steel industry and in catalytic converters has stabilized.

This does not mean that cerium is not worth investing in. There are new cerium-based technologies which have already entered the market which will fill some of the void. For example, cerium sequesters arsenic, a major boon to manufactures of nickel and copper. It also provides filtration for removing many harmful chemicals from water.

How to Locate Mining Stock to Invest In Cerium

The following list of mining companies and the stock exchanges they are traded on is the beginning of entering the world of rare earth element investments. This list has been narrowed down to companies that mine rare earth elements, including cerium, though they may also mine other metals as well.

Alkane Resources Ltd. (ASX: ALK)
Arafura Resources Ltd. (ASX: ARU)
Aurizon Mines Ltd (AMEX: AZK)
Avalon Rare Metals Inc (TSX: AVL)
Consolidated Abaddon Resources Inc (TSXV: ABN)
Eagle Plains Resources Ltd (TSX: EPL)
Gossan Resources Ltd (TSXV: GSS) (minor metals)
Great Western Minerals Group (CVE: GWG)
Molycorp Minerals LLC (MCP:NYSE)
Neo Material Technologies (TSE: NEM)

Cerium Quick Facts

  • » When Hollywood wants to make sparks, it hangs blocks of mischmetal, a combination of lanthanum, cerium and other rare earth metals from the underside of the stunt car. Far more sparks fly than would happen naturally.
  • » Cerium oxide is used in the lining of self-cleaning ovens to help oxidize particles during the heating cycle.
  • » Cerium creates sparks easily when it is struck, making it a popular addition to lighter flints.
  • » Cerium oxide is a great glass polish. It is the favored polishing compound for optical glass.

Chemical Compounds

  • » Ammonium Cerium(IV) Sulfate - This cerium salt is an oxidizing agent used when chemists want to identify how much of an unknown reactant is present. The toxicity of this oxidizer is very low.
  • » Ceric Ammonium Nitrate [(NH4)2Ce(NO3)6] - This is another of the cerium salts. It is also used widely as an oxidizing agent. It has applications in organic chemistry. It's primary use in industry is to etch the chrome used in photomasks and liquid crystal displays.
  • » Cerium Boride (CeB6) - Cerium boride is used primarily to coat hot cathodes or to produce solid cerium hexaboride hot cathode crystals. It is valued because it lasts 10 - 15 times longer than cathodes made with tungsten.
  • » Cerium Bromide (CeBr3) - When cerium bromide is added to lanthanum bromide it produces a crystal that exhibits superior scintillation properties. These crystals are used for security, medical imaging, and geophysics detectors.
  • » Cerium Oxide (CeO2) - Cerium oxide is the most commonly used form of cerium. It used in self-cleaning ovens to cause hydrocarbon combustion as the oven heats. It is used to polish glass. It absorbs ultraviolet light so may have potential as a component of sunscreens. It has ceramic applications. It is used as a fuel cell electrolyte. It has been used as one of the catalysts in catalytic converters. It also has the power to split water for hydrogen production.

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