The prices of neodymium, praseodymium and dysprosium, representing 85% of the economic value of the rare earth deposit at the Steenkampskraal mine in the Western Cape, increased about 50% last year. Total reserves at the mine have a market value of $2 billion.

“Neodymium magnets are used in industries such as electrical motor manufacturer, medical science and renewable energy which rely on high-strength neodymium magnets,” says Trevor Blench, chairman of Steenkampskraal Holdings, owners of the Steenkampskraal mine.

These magnets are also used for audio equipment such as microphones, acoustic pick-ups, headphones and loudspeakers, magnetically coupled pumps, door catches, motors and generators, MRI scanners, magnetic therapy, ABS (anti-lock braking) system sensors and lifting machinery, amongst many others.

Without neodymium magnets, many technological advancements over the last 30 years would not have been possible. Because of their great strength, performance and resistance to demagnetisation, neodymium magnets can be made in different shapes and sizes, even as small as 1mm diameter.

Dysprosium is used to make alloys for various electrical and electronic devices. An alloy is made by melting and mixing two or more metals. The mixture has properties different from any of the elements. Some dysprosium alloys have good magnetic properties.