Next-Generation Energy Technology Depends on Minerals

Posted on September 23, 2011 by Minerals Make Life

As America evolves to rely on new sources of energy, one fact rings clear: minerals are indispensable to tomorrow’s energy technologies—from lithium in hybrid car batteries to gallium in solar panels and copper in wind turbines.

The need for a steady, reliable supply of rare earth minerals was the topic last week in a post to The Washington Post’s Wonkblog, which decried U.S. reliance on an imported, unreliable supply chain of rare earths:

“Many types of solar modules are made with rare earths. Electric cars and hybrids such as the Toyota Prius rely on powerful magnets that charge the battery and allow the motor to turn the wheels — magnets that depend on rare earths such as neodymium and terbium. A large wind turbine can use as much as a ton and a half of rare-earth magnets. Older, traditional magnets using iron alloy won’t cut it.”Wonkblog

In other words, there’s not going to be a clean-energy revolution unless we solve our rare-earth woes.

And it doesn’t stop with rare earths. The United States is the world’s largest consumer of cobalt, which MIT’s Technology Review noted is 10 times more prevalent than lithium in lithium-ion batteries for hybrid vehicles. As with rare earth minerals, the United States has been relying on imports of cobalt to meet manufacturers’ needs.

If America plans to bet its energy future on these technologies, we must invest in establishing reliable, domestic supplies of the raw mineral materials that drive diversification in the energy sector.

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