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.