The DOE’s Critical Materials Strategy
In December, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released its Critical Materials Strategy, which studied the importance of certain key raw materials in clean energy.
The Critical Materials Strategy [pdf] is the second of its kind and essentially an update from last year’s. At the heart of the study is concern over short-term supply and demand. The study reveals that materials used in clean energy technologies such as wind turbines, electric vehicles, and photovoltaic thin-film, are likely to face short-term disruptions before finding their footing again in the medium- and long-term.
The top five rare materials (out of a highlighted sixteen) connected to growing supply concerns are:
One of the problems with supply lies with China, which owns 95% of the world’s rare materials and began capping exports back in 2009. Currently, one state-owned company — Inner Mongolia Bautou Steel Rare-Earth (SHA:600111) — controls roughly 60% of the country’s supply, which enables China to control prices.
Another problem is a lack of expertise in processing these materials, especially amongst non-Chinese rare earth metal companies. Jack Lifton, founder of the industry consultancy company Technology Metals Research, told Reuters that of the 244 non-Chinese companies planning to produce rare earth metals, less than 4 percent would prove profitable.
Not exactly a substantial alternative.
Still, the DOE is hoping its three-pronged strategy of diversification, research of substitutes, and recycling will prolong the inevitable. But for the short-term, it seems likely that industry will have its disruptions.
Image credit: Perkinsn via Wikimedia
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