Rare earth metals in wind power, solar energy and electric cars

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today released the 2011 Critical Materials Strategy. The report examines the role that rare earth metals and other key materials play in clean energy technologies such as wind turbines, electric vehicles, solar cells and energy-efficient lighting. 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. Supply challenges for five rare earth metals (dysprosium, neodymium, terbium, europium and yttrium) may affect clean energy technology deployment in the years ahead.

“The transition to a clean energy economy will create jobs, enhance our security and cut pollution,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. “This report provides information to help with the transition to a clean energy future, identifying strategies for responding to potential shortages of critical materials in the years ahead. It will help us seize opportunities, using American innovation to find substitutes, promote recycling and help secure supplies of rare earth elements and other materials used in energy technologies.”

In the past year, DOE has developed its first critical materials research and development (R&D) plan, provided new funding for priority research, convened international workshops that brought together leading experts, and participated in substantial new coordination among federal agencies working on these topics. The fiscal year 2012 spending bill also includes $20 million to fund an energy innovation hub focused on critical materials that will help to further advance the three pillars of the DOE strategy: diversifying supply, developing substitutes, and improving recycling, reuse and more efficient use.

The 2011 Critical Materials Strategy is DOE’s second report on this topic and provides an update to last year’s analysis. Using a methodology adapted from the National Academy of Sciences, the report includes criticality assessments for 16 elements based on their importance to clean energy and supply risk. The report is the product of extensive research and data collection by the Department over the last twelve months.

David Sandalow, Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs, will also present the report’s findings at 10 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012, at the Center for Strategic and International Affairs, 1800 K St. NW.