Mount Weld in Western Australia, the richest known deposit of rare earths in the world according to Lynas Corp. Source: Lynas Corp.
Limited supplies of five rare-earth minerals pose a threat to increasing use of clean-energy technologies such as wind turbines and solar panels, a U.S. Energy Department report found.
The substances -- dysprosium, terbium, europium, neodymium and yttrium -- face potential shortages until 2015, according to the report, which reiterates concerns identified in a report a year ago.
The 2011 report studied 16 elements and related materials, including nickel and manganese, which are used to make batteries. The analysis of so-called critical elements began after rare-earth prices jumped following imposition of export restrictions in 2010 by China, the world’s major producer.
“In recent years, demand for almost all of the materials examined has grown more rapidly than demand for commodity metals such as steel,” the report said.
David Sandalow, assistant secretary for policy and international affairs at the Energy Department, plans to discuss the report today at an event in Washington.
Rare earths became a political and legislative issue after China moved to reduce export quotas in July 2010 by 40 percent. The country accounts for 95 percent of rare-earth production, according to the Energy Department.
The Chinese government said late last month it was leaving the export limits unchanged, and more production from companies including Greenwood Village, Colorado-based Molycorp Inc. (MCP) may ease some supply concerns.