Philips reduces dependence on rare earths for LEDs

Royal Philips Electronics has started working on a technology that will significantly reduce its dependence on rare earth minerals for creating its light-emitting diode (LED) lighting products.

“We have launched some innovation projects in order to become less dependent on rare earths,” SmartPlanet quoted Frans van Houten, CEO of Royal Philips Electronics, as saying in a conference call with analysts on Monday.

Mr van Houten explained creating the LED lighting products will remain dependent on rare earths, it being a vital component to its efficiency. But such dependence can be lessened.

“You cannot eliminate it of course. But in our labs we have been able to find a way to significantly reduce the amount of rare earths that we need in order to make our products,” Mr van Houten pointed out.

High-tech industries depend on a sustainable supply of rare earth elements. Rare earths, a set of seventeen chemical elements in the periodic table, are widely used in manufacturing a number of applications including aerospace, consumer electronics, automotive and telecommunications.

Despite their name, rare earths are abundant. But because of their geochemical properties, rare earths are dispersed and not often found in concentrated and economically exploitable forms.

These used to be a steady supply of rare earths provided by China, the world’s second-largest economy and likewise the world’s biggest supplier of rare earth minerals, holding more than 30 per cent of total world reserves. Nearly all the world’s processing facilities are found in China.

But China has imposed restrictions on its rare earths quotas since 2009, citing environmental concerns. This has put the rare earths chain into a panic, searching for other potential mining sites as well as inventing on research and development that could help pave the way for reduced reliance on the precious elements.

“It will still take us a couple of quarters before that comes to bear. But it’s nice to see that when you put pressure on your organization they come up with creative ideas,” Mr van Houten said.

Royal Philips Electronics isn’t the only one working on developing such kind of technology. Automakers Honda and Toyota have earlier announced developing alternative technologies that would transform their hybrid and electric vehicles less dependent on rare earths.

In December 2011, German parts supplier Continental AG announced the invention of an electric motor operating without permanent magnets. Auto company Renault has reportedly started adopting in two of its electric vehicles the new motor invention. German wind turbine manufacturer Enercon has also begun utilizing an electrical system to generate the necessary magnetic field required by its generators.

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