Rare earths are an important ingredient in emerging ‘green technologies’ directed at increased energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction. As a key component in rechargeable batteries and magnets in electric motors, rare earths play a fundamental role in hybrid motor vehicles. The current generation of hybrid cars each requires over 10 kilograms of rare earth metals. By 2015, there are likely to be over 10 million battery-powered cars on the road around the world. This translates to a potential demand of 113 million kilograms of rare earth metals for hybrid and fully electric vehicles in the next few years.
Wind turbines, another growth industry, are increasingly being used to produce clean energy in the developed world and also require rare earth magnets in their manufacture. A modern 3-megawatt wind turbine uses about five hundred kilograms of neodymium. The International Energy Agency recognises wind energy as being one of the most mature and cheap green electricity technologies and it is being invested in heavily in Europe, China and America, driven by legally binding targets to reduce CO2 emissions.
Energy-saving compact fluorescent light bulbs gain much of their brightness from rare earth phosphors, most commonly yttrium, terbium and europium. With the industrialized world rapidly moving from incandescent to fluorescent bulbs (the U.S. conversion is scheduled to be complete by 2014), this industry represents a built-in demand spike for rare earths. Some additional energy-related products that use rare earths include photovoltaic cells, nickel-metal hydride rechargeable batteries and energy efficient windows.