Peak Neodymium : Material Constraints for Future Wind Power Development

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Institutionen för geovetenskaper

Abstract:

Developing renewable alternatives for energy production is one of the main methods for climate change mitigation and sustainable development. As the key component in permanent magnets, neodymium is considered as one of the most critical elements in the rare earth family in the development of modern society. It plays a significant role in increasing efficiency and reducing weight in many applications like hard disc drives, audio equipment, direct- driven gearless and conventional wind turbine design, as well as electric vehicles designs with NiMH batteries. The emerging problem of neodymium production is the peak neodymium issue, which implies a potential risk of supply in the future due to the unsustainable production pathway. Now, China is producing more than 90% of the rare earth elements with an around 40% reserves and is facing severe problems of environmental pollution, smuggling, and increasing domestic demand. This paper makes efforts to see if the risk of supply would constrain future wind power development with a special focus on the China’s dominance in production and policies. By fitting historic production data with three curve models (logistic, Gompertz, and Richards) and designing future demand based on IEA’s scenarios, the projections of future supply and demand trends of neodymium was obtained. This paper shows that though neodymium-based wind turbine construction might not be the cause for neodymium shortage, it would be confronted with material constraints in the future. Thus, more consideration should be taken in the investment of wind turbines with permanent magnet. Also, a mineral strategy, which integrates technological innovation, joint effort from different stakeholders, and better resource management, is required for a sustainable production of neodymium in the long run.

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