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  • Rare Earths Trade Issues Move to WTO

Photonics Spectra
Apr 2012

What’s a manufacturer to do? The pricing and availability of rare earths such as cerium oxide, used in optical production, have been a concern for many companies in our industry for years now, and the underlying issues remain unresolved. Companies whose products and processes depend on rare earth materials continue to cut back on production and the amount of material used, seek out alternatives to the costly elements, investigate new options for recycling used materials and, in many cases, just pay the price.

APOMA (American Precision Optics Manufacturers Association) addressed the ongoing issue at a meeting in January in a panel discussion called “Importance of Rare Earth Elements in Optical Production.” At the event, Dr. Heather L. Rayle, vice president and general manager of advanced optics at Schott North America Inc., said, “Pricing stresses have made it difficult to satisfy customer needs.”

Although prices have dropped in recent months, the crisis is not over, said Justin J. Mahanna, vice president of field applications at Universal Photonics Inc., a supplier of precision surface-polishing materials. “Prices dropped because people are being more conservative in their use of cerium oxide,” he said.

The rare earths issue moved recently to trade case status with the WTO (World Trade Organization) when the US, Japan and European Union nations joined to open a case against China, which tightly controls access to much of the world’s supply of refined rare earth materials. President Obama said American manufacturers need access to these materials. “Now, if China would simply let the market work on its own, we’d have no objections,” he added.

Of course, this move will not bring swift change to the situation, but APOMA can help keep the issue in the public eye and inform its members as the situation changes. Concerned organizations can be part of the solution by getting involved with APOMA and other such groups.

Security in sight

Our content focus this month is photonics applications in defense and security, and we broach the subject from several angles and wavelengths. In our cover story, contributing editor Hank Hogan reports on the increasing use of digital network cameras for surveillance and security. In “Connected and Smarter, Cameras Keep Watch,” Hogan says the trend is toward network cameras, which are Internet protocol (IP)-based and digital. “They offer megapixel and high-definition resolution, helping tasks ranging from security to determining which displays attract people in a store. They also are increasingly intelligent, able to extract and transmit only what is important in a scene. As a result, they can do double or triple duty,” he writes in the article beginning on page 46.

Photonics Spectra staff features editor Lynn Savage examines how imaging and spectroscopy in the terahertz frequency range will one day provide an advantage for those working in security and the military. In “Conscripting Terahertz Sensors,” Savage explains how terahertz waves’ short length allows them to penetrate most nonmetallic substances, making them useful for revealing concealed weapons, chemical explosives and biological agents. Read the article, which starts on page 52.

Finally, our security detail takes us into the near-IR, where a camera module has been designed to capitalize on spectral irradiance caused by airglow in the 900- to 1700-nm band for night-vision applications. The article, “The Night Glows Brighter in the Near-IR,” begins on page 62. It was submitted by Danny De Gaspari, Jan Veldeman, Patrick Lamerichs, Siegfried Herftijd, Patrick Merken and Jan Vermeiren, all of Xenics NV. They tell us, “The most natural image still is an intensified image in the visible spectrum and in the near-IR realm, although it is very specular because of the low quantity of incident photons. Short-wavelength infrared delivers very similar images but a larger amount of incident photons.”

Enjoy the issue.

cerium oxide
A polishing material that has a quicker polishing action than rouge (ferric oxide) and that is cleaner to handle.
spectral irradiance
Irradiance per unit wavelength interval at a given wavelength, expressed in watts per unit area per unit wavelength interval.
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