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Five Rare Earth Elements in ‘Critical’ Supply: U.S. Energy Department

Alternative Energy

Five rare earth elements fundamental to creating new technologies such as wind turbines, electric cars and efficient lighting are facing critical supply levels over the next few years, the U.S. Department of Energy warns.

The DOE, in its “2011 Critical Materials Strategy” report, said provision of rare earth elements dysprosium, terbium, europium, neodymium and yttrium are already reaching “critical” levels of short-term supply, meaning supply issues could occur from now through 2015.

Even worse, according to the report, all five elements have few material substitutes and come from a narrow range of producers.

“This means that an unexpected supply glitch or trade dispute could have quick, deep ripple-effects through the green-tech sector,” the report said.

Yttrium, used to make compact fluorescent lamps, is 100 per cent imported from China since there are no other producers mining or refining it. Dysprosium, essential for magnets that can operate at high temperatures such as vehicle drives, also mostly come from China.

Terbium, the only viable substitute for dysprosium, is even rarer and more expensive.

Earlier this month, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC), in a survey of senior executives from 69 manufacturers, said at least seven manufacturing industries, including automotive, chemicals, aviation and renewable energy, will face a shortage of raw materials and a slump in industrial activities, as 14 rare earth elements may turn even more insufficient in the next five years.

PwC had urged business leaders of the manufacturing industries to start establishing fallback plans and fast track implementing them if only to sustain their immediate business plans.

Rare earth elements are not really rare. However, there are only a handful of producers who can successfully mine and refine the said elements. China is the world’s stronghold of rare earth elements, feeding 95 per cent of the world’s demand.


6 Comments on "Five Rare Earth Elements in ‘Critical’ Supply: U.S. Energy Department"

  1. Paul on Fri, 23rd Dec 2011 10:07 am 

    “fundamental to creating new technologies such as wind turbines, electric cars and efficient lighting” – but don’t worry, we’ve plenty for the next generation of iPods.

  2. EnergyUnlimited on Fri, 23rd Dec 2011 2:06 pm 

    The problem with rare metals is that if you want them cheap, they can only be produced in environmentally devastating way.
    Otherwise they will be expensive enough to prevent frivolous use.

    I suspect that we will sacrifice environment to produce these metals cheaply anyway.
    Destiny of man is to die of on the pile of garbage while being surrounded by technology which is not needed and paid for by money which are not there, eg fraudulent phantom money produced by Federal Reserve.

    Hence the final ruin is coming.

  3. BillT on Sat, 24th Dec 2011 1:18 am 

    Energy unlimited is correct. We are destined by our greed to be like 3rd world countries where many live in or on the trash piles of civilization…or is that “UN-civilization”? If you read the Dunes series of science fiction books by Heinlein, you know of the planet Giedi Prime, an industrial planet ruined by pollution.

  4. Ham on Sat, 24th Dec 2011 2:40 am 

    Frank Herbert not Heinlein 😉

  5. BillT on Sat, 24th Dec 2011 10:50 am 

    Ooops! Thanks Ham, for the correction! It has been a while since I read the Dune series, and I always get those two guys mixed up.

  6. Kenz300 on Sun, 25th Dec 2011 3:08 pm 

    Are there huge mineral deposits in Afghanistan? Could mining be their ticket out of the dark ages and provide jobs to the economy?

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