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A few substances called rare earths (and some similar materials) are essential ingredients for the manufacture of key components of new generations of electric vehicles and wind, solar, and lighting equipment, as well as products such as cell phones, computers, and flat panel televisions.
There is global pressure on supply of these essential ingredients, and shortages or price volatility (such as 10-fold price differences in recent years for some of the materials) could have a wide range of effects in many countries on energy use, national security, pollution, recycling, the economy, and other issues.
Recognizing this, the US Dept. of Energy issued on Dec. 22, 2011, its Critical Materials Strategy, laying out the issues surrounding each of the 16 key materials it identified, including current and projected supply and demand, options for reducing supply and demand problems, alternative materials and product designs to explore, and implications for various international relationships.
- Critical Materials Strategy, December 2011; press release.
At the moment, DoE says five of the materials likely will be in critically short supply from 2012 to 2025 — dysprosium, neodymium, terbium, europium, and yttrium. Four other materials – cerium, indium, lanthanum, and tellurium — warrant near-critical status from 2012 to 2015, and lithium and tellurium get tagged with the same label for 2015-2025.
Along with many issues related to the national and regional pictures regarding the manufacturing and use of products in which the 16 substances are key components, there are many local issues tied to their extraction and processing at many sites around the country, and design, manufacturing, distribution, sales, and research issues tied to products in which the substances are used.
The report covers the big picture issues, and also summarizes details related to each of the 16 substances. In addition, informative references cited are:
- USGS, Mineral Commodity Summaries, 2011.
- USGS, Minerals Yearbook.
For more information on rare earths (including details on US deposits), see the TipSheet of Dec. 8, 2010.