The newly released 2011 Critical Materials Strategy report from the Department of Energy (DOE) examines the role of rare earth metals and other materials essential to clean-energy economies.

The document highlights the importance of certain materials to wind turbines, electric vehicles, photovoltaic thin films, and energy-efficient lighting. In recent years, demand for almost all the materials examined has grown more rapidly than demand for commodity metals such as steel.

For example, the magnets used in many of today's proliferating wind turbines and electric vehicles use rare earth praseodymium, neodymium, and dysprosium. As efficiency standards are implemented globally, rare earths such as yttrium used in lighting phosphors may be in short supply.

Beyond clean energy, rare earths are also widely used in the telecommunications and defense industries, in addition to consumer products such as cell phones, computers, and flat-panel televisions.

According to the report, shortages for five rare earth metals including dysprosium, terbium, europium, neodymium, and yttrium may affect clean energy technology deployment in the years ahead, though the DOE and others have scaled up work to address these challenges. Progress includes new research funding, development of DOE’s first critical materials research plan, international workshops, and new coordination among federal agencies.

To read the full report, visit energy.gov.

Additional information on rare-earth metals can be found in this 2011 story.

Basics can be found here.


Also download a PDF on magnets and magnetism.