Scarcity of neodymium and other energy minerals will trigger trade wars

Nov. 1, 2010
China is preparing to build 330 gigawatts worth of wind generators. This will require about 59,000 tons of neodymium to make high-strength magnets--more than China's annual output of neodymium.

Boulder, CO--China is preparing to build 330 gigawatts worth of wind generators. This will require about 59,000 tons of neodymium to make high-strength magnets--more than China's annual output of neodymium. China supplies the world with many rare earth elements like neodymium, and will have little or none to export if it moves ahead with its wind-power plans.

Semiconductors, dopants for photonics
There is a long list of scarce metals needed for alternative energy, photonics, and other uses such as transportation. Metals like gallium, indium, selenium, tellurium, and high-purity silicon are needed to make photovoltaic panels. To make batteries there's zinc, vanadium, lithium and rare-earth elements as well as platinum-group minerals for fuel cell-powered vehicles.

"There's a misunderstanding in the public about moving to alternative energy and moving from mining, which can't be done," said James Burnell of the Colorado Geological Survey. Burnell will be speaking about the resource demands of alternative energy technologies on 2 Nov. at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America (Denver, CO).

Trade wars are on the horizon, Burnell predicts. Yet policy makers and the public seem only superficially aware of the problem.

New sources of these critical metals are needed, said Yasushi Watanabe of the Institute for Geo-Resources and Environment in Tsukuba, Japan. Today at the same Geological Society of America meeting Watanabe will be presenting his work on the geology of these critical elements and where they can be found.

New sources of these critical metals are needed, said Watanabe, as well as new methods for extracting the rare elements from different kinds of rocks. "Extraction methods of metals from new minerals and materials are not well established," he said. "We need to develop new (refining) and smelting methods for new type ores."

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About the Author

John Wallace | Senior Technical Editor (1998-2022)

John Wallace was with Laser Focus World for nearly 25 years, retiring in late June 2022. He obtained a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and physics at Rutgers University and a master's in optical engineering at the University of Rochester. Before becoming an editor, John worked as an engineer at RCA, Exxon, Eastman Kodak, and GCA Corporation.

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