Study Finds We Have Enough Rare Earth Minerals to Drive the Green Energy Shift – Digital Journal

UK’s Crown Estate says these six new offshore wind projects will generate electricity for more than seven million homes – Copyright AFP Oikeutta Elaimille

The world has enough rare earth minerals and other critical raw materials to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy to produce electricity and counter climate change.

CTV News Canada reports that some people worry there won’t be enough key minerals to make the decarbonization shift, however a new study counters concerns about the supply of such minerals.

He new study, published in Science Direct on January 27, 2023, concludes that the geological reserves of materials are sufficient to meet all projected future demands, and that the impacts of emissions from the production of materials are not negligible, but of limited magnitude.

Rare earths, dispersed in a thin layer, are essential in a range of high-tech products key to combating climate change – Copyright AFP Jim WATSON

Rare earth minerals are not that rare.

Rare earth minerals, also called rare earth elements, are not as rare as some people believe. According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), the rare earths are a “relatively abundant” group of 17 elements composed of scandium, yttrium, and lanthanides.

The elements are essential to produce the strong magnets needed for wind turbines; they also appear in smartphones, computer screens and LED light bulbs, according to the Associated Press.

In the study, the scientists looked at all 17 rare earths, as well as 20 different energy sources. They calculated the supplies and pollution from mining if green power increased to meet global targets to reduce heat-trapping carbon emissions from fossil fuels.

Scientists found that more mining is needed, but there are enough minerals to go around, and drilling them will not significantly worsen global warming.

“Decarbonization is going to be big and complicated, but at the same time we can do it,” said study co-author Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at technology company Stripe and Berkeley Earth. “I am not worried that we will run out of these materials.”

One of the biggest global concerns centers on lithium, necessary for the batteries used by electric vehicles. Interestingly, the study does not analyze that.

Watching mineral demand for batteries is much more complicated than for electric power, and that’s what the team will do next, Hausfather said. The power sector still accounts for between a third and a half of the resource problem, he said.

In South America, lithium is derived from salt flats or salt flats.
In South America, lithium is derived from salt flats or salt flats – Copyright AFP Martin BERNETTI

It will not be easy

A lot depends on how quickly the world switches to green energy, and there will be shortages in supplies. For example, dysprosium is a mineral used for magnets in wind turbines and, according to the study, a big push towards cleaner electricity would require three times as much dysprosium as is currently produced.

However, there is more than 12 times the supply of dysprosium in reserve than would be needed in that clean energy push.

“There are enough materials in the reserves. The analysis is robust and this study debunks those concerns (about running out of minerals),” said Daniel Ibarra, a professor of environment at Brown University, who was not part of the study but discusses the lithium shortage. But he said production capacity has to grow for some “key metals” and one problem is how fast it can grow.

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