Mining News

Mining needed to meet mineral needs of renewable energy

Posted by Jonathan Culley on 2/13/2012 6:29:26 AM

Soaring demand and shortages in mineral supplies threaten renewable energy expansion

A recent report by the United Nations predicts that wind, solar and other renewable energies will eventually account for most energy used.[1] In the U.S., the Energy Information Administration (EIA) recently reported that renewable energy from solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal and biomass/biofuels now makes up 11.95% of U.S. energy provided during the first three quarters of 2011.[2] Renewable energy production in the U.S. increased from 10.85% in 2010 and 10.33% in 2009, and now provides a greater share of domestic energy production than nuclear.[2]

Renewable energy requires metals and minerals

The increased production of renewable energy is also driving increased demand for mined metals and minerals. New solar panels require arsenic, bauxite, boron, cadmium, coal, copper, gallium, indium, iron ore, molybdenum, lead, phosphate, selenium, silica, tellurium, and titanium dioxide.[3] Wind turbines use concrete, bauxite, cobalt, copper, iron ore, molybdenum and rare earth elements.[4] The rare earth elements (REE), also known as rare earth metals, are particularly important in wind turbines as they reduce the weight and size needed for magnets in wind turbines.[5]

Supply restrictions

Soaring demand and limited supplies of REE are now threatening to limit the expansion of renewable energy technologies, according to a recent U.S. Energy Department report.[6] China currently produces about 95% of the rare earth elements and five REE – dysprosium, terbium, europium, neodymium, and yttrium - face potential shortages until 2015.[6] China’s control over these elements is also of concern due to export restrictions and quotas.

New supplies of Rare Earth Elements

The U.S. is now seeking to develop its own domestic REE mining industry, as well as to diversify global supplies.[6] Canada also has the potential for REE production, with an estimated 56% of REE deposits outside of China.[5]

Perhaps the most significant challenge to increasing REE supplies is the regulatory environment, which can result in multiple years between exploration and production.[6] However, without increased exploration and mining, the expansion of renewable energy technologies may be threatened.

Show References


1Johnston, J. World Renewable Energy Demand To Surge, Costs To Fall, Says UN Report. The9Billion, 2011.

2Yale Environment 360. Renewables Yield Greater Share of U.S. Power than Nuclear, Report Says. e360 digest 2012 [cited 2012 January 9]; Available from:

3Muhovich, T. Metals & Mineral Products used to make a Solar Panel. Fact Sheet 2010 [cited 2012 January 9]; Available from:

4Hodder, W. What Mineral Products & Metals Are Needed To Make Wind Turbines? Fact Sheet 2010 [cited 2012 January 9]; Available from:

5CBC News. In Depth Rare Earth metals: A look at 17 chemical elements vital for gadgets of today, green technologies of tomorrow. 2011 July 20, 2011 [cited 2011 October 6]; Available from:

6Snyder, J. Five Rare Eaths Crucial for Clean Energy Seen in Short Supply. Bloomberg Businessweek 2012 January 5, 2012; Available from:

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