Rare earth metals are used in solar panels and wind turbines—as well as electric cars and consumer electronics. We don’t recycle them, and there’s not enough to meet growing demand.
A new scientific study supported by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure warns that the renewable energy industry could be about to face a fundamental obstacle: shortages in the supply of rare metals.
To meet greenhouse gas emission reduction targets under the Paris Agreement, renewable energy production has to scale up fast. This means that global production of several rare earth minerals used in solar panels and wind turbines—especially neodymium, terbium, indium, dysprosium, and praseodymium—must grow twelvefold by 2050.
But according to the new study by Dutch energy systems company Metabolic, the “current global supply of several critical metals is insufficient to transition to a renewable energy system.”
The study focuses on demand for rare metals in the Netherlands and extrapolates this to develop a picture of how global trends are likely to develop.
“If the rest of the world would develop renewable electricity capacity at a comparable pace with the Netherlands, a considerable shortage would arise,” the study finds. This doesn’t include other applications of rare earth metals in other electronics industries (rare earth metals are widely used in smartphones, for example). “When other applications (such as electric vehicles) are also taken into consideration, the required amount of certain metals would further increase.”