There is one chemical reaction at which the rare earth metal Lanthanum is particularly good at, and that’s precipitating phosphate from water. The use of Lanthanum Chloride (LaCl3) to precipitate phosphate from reef aquarium water has grown in recent years, more so at the hobbyist level than the professional aquarists who’ve been using the stuff much longer. Unfortunately the last few months have seen a dramatic rise in the cost of Lanthanum Oxide (which is used to make LaCl3) due to dramatic cuts in the exports of rare earth metals from China, Lanthanum included.
Not only is China sitting on the biggest reserves of rare earth metals, but most of it is obtained from the the byproduct of extracting iron meaning they have greatly reduced cost because their starting material is already processed and loaded with valuable earth metals. Factor in environmentally hazardous extraction methods, 50 years of mining focus and the most effective purification methods, and now China controls 95% of the global production of rare earth metals, including Lanthanum and Neodymium.
The cost of neodymium has risen steadily over the last few years even as aquarists have grown particulalry fond of neodymium-powered algae scrubber magnets and pump magnets. However we are addicted to the strength of neodymium and we probably won’t mind paying a relative premium for it. But with its much steeper increase in base cost, the use of LaCl is likely to become cost-ineffective for removing phosphate from reef aquarium water as compared to the use of granular ferric oxide (GFO).
We spoke to Ms. Ariel Freudenthal of Blue Life USA at Aquarama about the Lanthanum shortage and we were informed that they have a decent supply of Phosphate Rx, perhaps the first LaCl-based phosphate remover to make a widespread presence on the shelves of American fish stores. In the meantime maybe it’s time to revisit other instant phosphate removing additives such as Rowa Crystal and Coral-Shop Dispophos.