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DOE report finds some materials for EVs and other clean energy technologies at risk of supply disruptions in the short term; risks decreasing in medium- and long-term

Materials in clean energy technologies and components. Source: DOE. Click to enlarge.

Several clean energy technologies—including electric vehicles, wind turbines, PV thin films and fluorescent lighting—use materials at risk of supply disruptions in the short term, with risks generally decreasing in the medium- and long-terms, according to the newly released 2011 Critical Materials Strategy report from the US Department of Energy (DOE).

According to the report, supply challenges for five rare earth metals (REEs)—dysprosium, terbium, europium, neodymium and yttrium—were found to be critical in the short term (present–2015). These five REEs are used in magnets for wind turbines and electric vehicles or phosphors in energy-efficient lighting. Other elements—cerium, indium, lanthanum and tellurium—were found to be near-critical. Between the short term and the medium term (2015–2025), the importance to clean energy and supply risk shift for some materials.

Short-term (left) and medium-term (right) criticality matrices. Source: DOE. Click to enlarge.

The new report updates the 2010 Critical Materials Strategy (earlier post), which highlighted the importance of certain materials to those clean energy technologies. The 2011 Critical Materials Strategy includes updated criticality assessments, market analyses and technology analyses to address critical materials challenges. It was prepared by the US Department of Energy (DOE) based on data collected and research performed during 2011.

Market analysis. Demand for almost all of the materials examined in the report has grown more rapidly than demand for commodity metals such as steel, the report nots. The growing demand for the materials comes from consumer products such as cell phones, computers and flat panel televisions as well as clean energy technologies. Findings in this section of the report include:

  • In general, global material supply has been slow to respond to the rise in demand over the past decade due to a lack of available capital, long lead times, trade policies and other factors. For many key materials, market response is further complicated by the complexities of coproduction and byproduction. In addition, for some key materials, the market’s lack of transparency and small size can affect its ability to function efficiently.

  • Some universities and other institutions are preparing the future science and engineering workforce through courses, research opportunities and internships. Important topics for research include material characterization, instrumentation, green chemistry, manufacturing engineering, materials recycling technology, modeling, market assessment and product design.

  • Businesses at various stages of the supply chain are adapting to market dynamics. Some are taking defensive measures to protect themselves from price volatility and material scarcity while others are proactively responding to market opportunities by offering additional sources of supply or potential substitutes.

  • Many governments recognize the growing importance of raw materials to economic competitiveness and are taking an active role in mitigating supply risks.

Technology analysis. The 2011 report features three in-depth technology analyses, which concluded:

  • Rare earth elements play an important role in petroleum refining, but the sector’s vulnerability to rare earth supply disruptions is limited. Lanthanum is used in fluid catalytic cracking (FCC), an important part of petroleum refining. However lanthanum supplies are less critical than some other rare earths and refineries have some ability to adjust input amounts. Recent lanthanum price increases have likely added less than a penny to the price of gasoline.

  • Manufacturers of wind power and electric vehicle technologies are pursuing strategies to respond to possible rare earth shortages. Permanent magnets (PMs) containing neodymium and dysprosium are used in wind turbine generators and electric vehicle (EV) motors. These REEs have highly valued magnetic and thermal properties. Manufacturers of both technologies are currently making decisions on future system design, trading off the performance benefits of neodymium and dysprosium against vulnerability to potential supply shortages. For example, wind turbine manufacturers are deciding among gear-driven, hybrid and direct-drive systems, with varying levels of rare earth content. Some EV manufacturers are pursuing rare-earth-free induction motors or switched reluctance motors as alternatives to PM motors.

  • As lighting energy efficiency standards are implemented globally, heavy rare earths used in lighting phosphors may be in short supply. A projected increase in US demand for CFLs and efficient LFLs corresponds to a projected increase in global CFL demand, suggesting upward price pressures for rare earth phosphors in the 2012–2014 timeframe, when europium, terbium and yttrium will be in short supply. In the future, light-emitting diodes (which are highly efficient and have much lower rare earth content) are expected to play a growing role in the market, reducing the pressure on rare earth supplies.

DOE strategy. In the past year, DOE has developed its first critical materials research and development (R&D) plan, provided new funding for priority research, convened international workshops that brought together leading experts, and participated in substantial new coordination among federal agencies working on these topics.

DOE’s strategy for addressing critical materials challenges rests on three pillars:

  • Diversified global supply chains;
  • Development of substitutes; and
  • Recycling, reuse and more efficient use.

DOE’s critical materials research and development (R&D) plan is aligned with these three pillars. The fiscal year 2012 spending bill includes $20 million to fund an energy innovation hub focused on critical materials that will help to further advance the three pillars of the DOE strategy.




Some of Renault's choices in electric vehicles seem better than those of its partner Nissan.
Their motors do not use rare earths.

They have also chosen to put AC/DC conversion inside the vehicle to minimise costs of infrastructure, which may or may not pan out, and to go for battery leasing which offers much lower upfront cost to the buyer and security from worries about battery life.

I am not nearly so keen on their partnership with Better Place, who in my view are rip-off merchants.


We could see more use of induction motors/alternators and leasing EVs. Range will still be an issue and resale has yet to be shown.


We now have Glasses guide giving residuals.

'Then there is the price, which is low compared to the opposition. Kangoo ZE ranges from £16,900 to £18,690 ex-VAT, plus around £85 per month for the batteries, depending on which mileage/time package is chosen. Rival electric vans of this size cost around £40,000.

There is further good news on the residual value front. Glass’s Guide gives Kangoo ZE a predicted residual value of 45.7% after three years/27,000 miles, compared to a CAP figure for the Transit Connect Electric of just 20% at three years/30,000 miles.

The rival van is sold complete with batteries and costs £39,995, so the huge RV variance reflects the difference that Renault’s battery leasing strategy has made.

Range is something Renault is powerless to affect at present. The Kangoo will, like its rivals, travel around 105 miles on a full charge. But Renault confidently predicts that this figure will double within five years as battery technology advances. And when it does, the new batteries will be designed to slot into older vans, avoiding the possibility that early models will become obsolete in a few years.

The lease package for the lithium ion batteries also includes a breakdown and recovery service so if a van runs out of power it will be towed to the nearest charging point free of charge.

And for fleets which occasionally need to travel more than 100 miles, Renault has included a special deal in which diesel vans can be rented at special rates from Avis and Europcar.'

Apart from the shocking difference in residuals with the Ford, the Kangoo ZE also does well against the conventional Kangoo, which after 3 years has a value of only just over one third.

Insurance is comparable to conventional, and maintenance on a contract is at a 20% discount to diesel.


Cost difference between running a Ford electric and the Renault Kangoo ZE over 3 years comes to £18,000 or so in depreciation and battery lease costs.


Merry chrismas to all. I wish you high mpg with the gifts you will receive and give without fuel cost nor pollution.


U 2 AD.


More NGVs need be produced to bridge the necessary time gap.


NGVs will not get far without a whole new infrastructure. And at a time when combustion to produce energy is becoming the modern horse and buggy...

Still, if gas stations chose to deliver CNG and H2, they might cling on to the non-electrified fringe.


Renting batteries for first generation EVs could make early electrified vehicles affordable while maintaining operation cost slightly below equivalent ICEVs.

As batteries price come down, so would rentals making the deal still more profitable. Secondly, batteries performance will probably double in 5 years or so. That would be another beneficial step for owners.


Supply disrutions of key EV materials sounds like a good investment opportunity.


"Some of Renault's choices in electric vehicles seem better than those of its partner Nissan.
Their motors do not use rare earths."

I was not aware of this, I thought they used the same system as Nissan. Are they using AC induction, are they building the systems themselves?


"Fluence Z.E. is powered by a synchronous electric motor with rotor coil. Peak power is 70kW at 3,000rpm, while maximum torque is 226Nm. The weight of the motor – excluding peripherals – is 160kg. "

The LEAF also uses a synchronous motor. I guess the "rotor coil" designation of the Fluence motor means it's DC excited and not PM?


Some 130 new rare earths mines are planning production in 30 different countries by 2015/2016. That will be the end of rare earths supply disruptions.


It is not the mining, but the refining. China has that market cornered.

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