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An assessment of U.S. rare earth availability for supporting U.S. wind energy growth targets

D.D. Imholte, R.T. Nguyen, A. Vedantam, M. Brown, A. Iyer, Braeton Smith, J.W. Collins, C.G. Anderson and O’Kelley, B.

Energy Policy, 2018, vol. 113, issue C, 294-305

Abstract: Global initiatives are focused on deploying clean energy technologies, such as wind energy, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. U.S. onshore and offshore wind targets have been particularly aggressive. Some wind energy technologies, such as direct-drive wind turbines, rely on a volatile and Chinese-concentrated rare earth element (REE) supply chain. Global efforts have been made to develop new sources of REEs, with limited success. This lack of rare earth availability has been suggested to inhibit direct-drive adoption, despite its energy efficiency benefits. However, it is unclear if new U.S. REE supply could adequately support onshore and offshore direct-drive wind energy growth, and help meet U.S. wind energy targets. This analysis estimates U.S. and Chinese REE availability that could support U.S. direct-drive and other REE demand. Results indicated that U.S. wind installation targets with solely direct-drive designs could only require 4–12% of maximum light rare earth production from Mountain Pass, Bear Lodge and phosphate rock mines. When considering market dynamics and hypothetical U.S. production, U.S. light REE production capacity was not able to provide sufficient light rare earths to achieve wind energy targets. U.S. wind energy targets could be achieved by prioritizing 3–17% of U.S. light REE production for direct-drive wind energy.

Date: 2018
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