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Friday, 6 January 2012

DOE: Rare earth shortages may damage clean tech growth

Jan 6, 2012

Dwindling supplies of five rare earth minerals could derail production of clean energy technologies such as wind turbines, electric vehicles and energy-efficient lighting, the US Department of Energy has warned.

In a report published at the end of last year, the DOE predicted dysprosium, terbium, europium, neodymium and yttrium will all face supply constraints until at least 2015.

Other elements, including cerium, indium, lanthanum and tellurium, which are used in some solar panels, were said to be facing near-critical shortages over the same period.

"The report found that several clean energy technologies use materials at risk of supply disruptions in the short term, with risks generally decreasing in the medium and long terms," the DOE said in a statement. "Supply challenges for five rare earth metals may affect clean energy technology deployment in the years ahead."

The prices of many of the 16 materials analysed in the report have been highly volatile over the past year, the DOE said, with some seeing prices increase 10-fold on the back of increased demand from both clean energy technologies and consumer products, such as mobile phones, computers, and flat screen televisions.

Laws demanding the phasing out of incandescent light bulbs could further increase pressure on supplies, the report warns.

It echoes fears raised in a similar report in late 2010, which was inspired by China's decision in July of that year to reduce rare earth export quotas by 40 per cent. It is estimated that the country produces 95 per cent of the global total of rare earth supplies.

In response to the 2010 report, the DOE developed its first critical materials research and development plan and its 2012 spending bill includes $20m to advance projects that diversify supplies, develop substitute materials, and enable recycling, reuse, and more efficient deployment or rare metals.

The EU also launched a resource efficiency roadmap in September, which calls for tax reform and fresh incentives to push consumers towards resource-efficient products.

Source: Business Green


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