As we reported in detail last February, UC Berkeley is at the forefront of the government’s push to develop more efficient ways of using rare earths that are key to a range of so-called “clean energy” technologies, including one especially critical element, dysprosium.
From a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory announcement we included in a post last February:
Belonging to a family of elements known as lanthanides—also called rare earths—dysprosium and other rare earths are used in almost every high-tech gadget and clean energy technology invented in the last 30 years, from smart phones to wind turbines to hybrid cars. Although the United States was self-sufficient in rare earths or obtained them on the free market until the early 2000s, the vast majority are now mined in China and the supply has been subject to fluctuations. The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) aims to change the status quo by reviving the study of these critical materials to better understand how to extract them, use them more efficiently, reuse and recycle them and find substitutes for them.
With most of the world’s developed dysprosium supplies in China, along with other critical rare earths, the Obama administration has launched a major military shift, concentrating American naval forces in the Pacific while using legal pressure to force China to part with more of its stockpiles, resources critical for American high tech industry.
Now comes a new report from the Department of Energy revealing that no matter how much of China’s dysprosium goes on the market, it’s not going to be enough.
From the U.S. Department of Energy Critical Materials Strategy [PDF]. Click on the image to enlarge:
From the report:
Figure 4-4 illustrates the ranges of projections of global requirements for dysprosium oxide in magnets for wind turbines and vehicles, as well as non-clean energy use during the period of 2010–2025. These amounts are given in terms of dysprosium oxide because it is the commercial feedstock from which dysprosium metal is refined and NdFeB magnets are fabricated. Also included in Figure 4-4 are supply estimates for 2010 and 2010 plus additional individual mines, as well as an estimate for 2015 supply.
Figure 4-4 shows that the basic availability of dysprosium oxide is tight in the short term. Anticipated new mines will provide relatively little new supply—an additional 10%—by 2015. Global demand meets or exceeds projected 2015 supply under all four trajectories in the beginning of the medium term. Non-clean energy demand alone will lead to a supply-demand mismatch by the middle of the medium term under the assumed trajectory, highlighting the need for corresponding material intensity improvements or substitutes in non-clean energy technologies. Clean energy demand makes up a growing share of global dysprosium demand, increasing from 11% in 2010 to 52% in 2025 under Trajectory C. Demand for dysprosium oxide is roughly four-times as much for vehicles compared to wind turbines in 2025. In order to meet demand under Trajectory C, global production of dysprosium oxide needs to more than double by 2025. The developing supply-demand imbalance in the medium term under all trajectories highlights the importance of R&D on alternative approaches to heat management (a main function of the dysprosium content) in magnets or substitutes for NdFeB magnets in general in clean energy technologies.