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Byproduct metal requirements for U.S. wind and solar photovoltaic electricity generation up to the year 2040 under various Clean Power Plan scenarios

Nedal T. Nassar, David R. Wilburn and Thomas G. Goonan

Applied Energy, 2016, vol. 183, issue C, 1209-1226

Abstract: The United States has and will likely continue to obtain an increasing share of its electricity from solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind power, especially under the Clean Power Plan (CPP). The need for additional solar PV modules and wind turbines will, among other things, result in greater demand for a number of minor metals that are produced mainly or only as byproducts. In this analysis, the quantities of 11 byproduct metals (Ag, Cd, Te, In, Ga, Se, Ge, Nd, Pr, Dy, and Tb) required for wind turbines with rare-earth permanent magnets and four solar PV technologies are assessed through the year 2040. Three key uncertainties (electricity generation capacities, technology market shares, and material intensities) are varied to develop 42 scenarios for each byproduct metal. The results indicate that byproduct metal requirements vary significantly across technologies, scenarios, and over time. In certain scenarios, the requirements are projected to become a significant portion of current primary production. This is especially the case for Te, Ge, Dy, In, and Tb under the more aggressive scenarios of increasing market share and conservative material intensities. Te and Dy are, perhaps, of most concern given their substitution limitations. In certain years, the differences in byproduct metal requirements between the technology market share and material intensity scenarios are greater than those between the various CPP and No CPP scenarios. Cumulatively across years 2016–2040, the various CPP scenarios are estimated to require 15–43% more byproduct metals than the No CPP scenario depending on the specific byproduct metal and scenario. Increasing primary production via enhanced recovery rates of the byproduct metals during the beneficiation and enrichment operations, improving end-of-life recycling rates, and developing substitutes are important strategies that may help meet the increased demand for these byproduct metals.

Keywords: Renewable energy; Minor metals; Critical metals; Rare-earth elements; Demand scenarios (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2016
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