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Evaluating Rare Earth Element Availability: A Case with Revolutionary Demand from Clean Technologies

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journal contribution
posted on 21.02.2016, 17:08 by Elisa Alonso, Andrew M. Sherman, Timothy J. Wallington, Mark P. Everson, Frank R. Field, Richard Roth, Randolph E. Kirchain
The future availability of rare earth elements (REEs) is of concern due to monopolistic supply conditions, environmentally unsustainable mining practices, and rapid demand growth. We present an evaluation of potential future demand scenarios for REEs with a focus on the issue of comining. Many assumptions were made to simplify the analysis, but the scenarios identify some key variables that could affect future rare earth markets and market behavior. Increased use of wind energy and electric vehicles are key elements of a more sustainable future. However, since present technologies for electric vehicles and wind turbines rely heavily on dysprosium (Dy) and neodymium (Nd), in rare-earth magnets, future adoption of these technologies may result in large and disproportionate increases in the demand for these two elements. For this study, upper and lower bound usage projections for REE in these applications were developed to evaluate the state of future REE supply availability. In the absence of efficient reuse and recycling or the development of technologies which use lower amounts of Dy and Nd, following a path consistent with stabilization of atmospheric CO2 at 450 ppm may lead to an increase of more than 700% and 2600% for Nd and Dy, respectively, over the next 25 years if the present REE needs in automotive and wind applications are representative of future needs.