Corporate Profile
Rare Metals Information
Media Room

Industry and Information Bulletins

Industry Bulletin: Tidal Power - Another clean energy technology enabled by Rare Earth Magnets

November 18, 2008

In our ongoing efforts to provide you with broader communications and industry information, we are pleased to issue another Industry Bulletin discussing recent trends in the markets of various rare and strategic metals. This edition looks at the emerging energy production capacity to be gained from tidal power and the role that rare earth element ("REE") magnets play in reducing energy losses and maintenance of the equipment used in its production. High fuel costs and concerns over the environment are creating a huge surge in demand for renewable energy alternatives including traditional hydro (dams), wind, solar, biomass and relatively new-hydro (tidal, in-stream turbines) technologies. Greatly increased government funding (estimated at $150 billion over 10 years) to stimulate more rapid development of these emerging renewable energy technologies, has been promised by U.S. President-elect, Barack Obama. Rare metals play an important role in many of these new technologies.

Grant Bucklers' special report to the Globe and Mail (20Oct08) entitled Atlantic Canada's Bay of Fundy has some of the world's highest and most powerful tides noted that "Every day, 100 billion tonnes of seawater surge in and out of the bay - a perfect source of clean, reusable alternative energy, if it can be properly harnessed". Recognizing the potential, the Government of Nova Scotia is championing a relatively large trial that could eventually produce 100 MW of electricity, about 10 per cent of the province's peak load.

Many new technologies are emerging to harness tidal power and the Nova Scotia initiative will assess three experimental underwater turbine technologies, each being dropped into the deep waters of the bay. These technologies effectively operate like underwater windmills. The sponsors of each of these technologies are:

  • Clean Current Power Systems Inc. of Vancouver will provide the only Canadian-made turbine in the tests
  • Nova Scotia Power, who will install a 10-metre-diameter turbine from Open Hydro Group Ltd. of Dublin, which has two such units installed at the European Marine Energy Centre off Scotland's Orkney Islands, and
  • Minas Power, who will install a buoyant turbine, known as the Underwater Electric Kite, made by UEK Corporation of Maryland.

Clean Current's tidal turbine generator is a "bi-directional ducted horizontal axis turbine with a direct drive variable speed permanent magnet generator." Its design is relatively simple in that it has one moving part - the rotor assembly that contains the blades. There is no drive shaft and no gearbox. Clean Current's direct drive variable speed permanent magnet generator incorporates features that allow the generator to be configured to produce either alternating or direct current. The system requires relatively little maintenance, with bearing seals replacements expected every 5 years and a generator overhaul every 10 years. The service life of the turbine generator is expected to be 25-30 years. Clean Current claims that its product will generate electricity with zero greenhouse gas emissions, have a modest footprint on the bottom of the ocean and have negligible impact on marine life.

OpenHydro's turbines resemble giant fans with the blades connected to a rotor, which spins slowly inside the structure as water flows through. Electricity is generated as the rotor turns past a magnet generator on the outer rim of the structure. The complete turbine unit is anchored to the ocean floor, and no dam is required. The speed of the volume of water passing through the area will drive the electricity production, with the depth and geology of the seabed and distance to a grid connection determining the cost and net output of its turbines.

The traditional configuration of tidal power technology is known as 'barrage form', where a dam is built across a river or outcropping of land. Water is then funneled into the tidal generating plant and through a large turbine as it flows in and out with the tide. The in-stream tidal technology takes advantage of natural tidal flows and is consequently - lower cost with much less environmental impact since they do not require construction of large dams or head ponds.

Iris Winston, in her article published in the National Post on Oct 7th, reported that, "the Nova Scotia Power project will be the first time in this part of the world that utility-size in-stream tidal turbines will be on the grid. Nova Scotia Power already operates one of only three tidal power plants in the world. The two other plants are in France and Russia. These three plants use barrage systems rather than the in-stream technology similar to underwater windmills"

While design details for these new turbines remain proprietary these tidal power units will be large, there may be a correlation, with some of the new direct drive wind turbine units, of the 5 MW size, which incorporate approximately 2500 kgs of neodymium-iron-boron permanent magnets. Approximately 30% of the composition of these magnets typically consists of neodymium plus smaller amounts of heavy rare earths such as dysprosium.

Avalon is well positioned to benefit from the new demand for rare earth elements for such emerging renewable energy applications as tidal power, through its large rare metals resources at Thor Lake, Northwest Territories. The Lake Zone REE deposit contains exceptional enrichment in neodymium and other heavy REE such as dysprosium needed for high strength permanent magnets. Gallium and niobium have both been used in certain REE magnet formulations.

For further information about Avalon and its Thor Lake project, please visit Avalon's website at

If you have any comments or questions, please do not hesitate to post them on Avalon's official investor relations hub at .

AGORACOM Investor Relations