Despite fears to the contrary, scientists say that rare earth materials—necessary for clean-energy production—are not running low.
- With new gas-powered vehicles slowly being phased out and clean-energy methods in high demand, production of new energy solutions will soon ramp up.
- Rare earth minerals like lithium, dysprosium, and tellurium are vital components in clean-energy production—being used for electric vehicle (EV) batteries, wind turbines, solar panels, hydroelectric power, and nuclear energy.
- A study in the scientific journal Joule says that fears over “running out of” rare earth material are unfounded. There are more than enough materials available to mine—enabling the industry to scale up as demand for them grows. These materials are actually “relatively abundant,” the Associated Press reports.
- “Decarbonization is going to be big and messy, but at the same time, we can do it. I’m not worried we’re going to run out of these materials,” says Joule study co-author Zeke Hausfather.
Why It’s Important
The search for rare earth materials to support the growing clean energy industry has put much pressure on supply chains and created anxieties surrounding their supplies. As we previously reported, Tesla has already delayed its upcoming Cybertruck due to issues sourcing components. Its engines use roughly five kilograms of lithium per battery, which only scales upwards for larger vehicles like the upcoming Tesla semi-truck.
The demand has led to multiple attempts to increase the available supply of rare materials, from building plants that recycle lithium batteries to mining the sea floor for rare materials.
“There are enough materials in reserves. The analysis is robust and this study debunks those running out of minerals concerns,” Brown University professor Daniel Ibarra tells AP.
Increased mining, both land-based and sea-based, does create environmental externalities. Sea mining could directly harm sensitive ecosystems that the use of EVs was intended to mitigate indirect damage to by reducing carbon emissions. Increased land-mining could add over 10 billion metric tons, one-fourth of the current annual carbon emissions, back into the atmosphere.
As AP notes, Joule’s calculations suggest that if global emissions and clean-energy goals are met, it would more than offset this increase in carbon emissions.