Rare Earth Elements Raise Environmental, Economic Risks for Clean Energy
Rare earth elements are essential to many clean energy technologies, yet their production can bring severe environmental impacts. A new report grapples with rare earths' environmental negatives and efforts to diversify supply beyond China.
In 2010 China withheld shipment of rare earth elements to Japan during a territorial dispute between the two countries. Rare earths, a grouping of 17 difficult to mine elements, are essential in the manufacture of goods such as cell phones and computer hard drives. They’re also a critical element in wind turbines and electric vehicle motors.
Today, China is the source of 85% of the world’s supply of refined rare earths, a fact that has raised concern in the United States given the growth of Chinese-American diplomatic tensions and rising demand for clean energy technologies. Any future disruption in the supply of the metals, similar to that experienced by Japan a decade ago, could have a crippling effect on clean energy development in the U.S. and elsewhere.
In the podcast, authors of the recent Kleinman Center report, Rare Earth Elements: A Resource Constraint of the Energy Transition, discuss the market for rare earths, explain why they are so important to clean energy, and examine growing calls to diversify global supply. The authors, Amy Chu of Mills College, and Oscar Serpell of the Kleinman Center, also talk about the high environmental impact of rare earths production, a reality that is at odds with the environmental promise of clean energy.
Amy Chu is an assistant professor of chemistry at Mills College. Oscar Serpell is Associate Director of Academic Programming here at the Kleinman Center. Their report, Rare Earth Elements: A Resource Constraint of the Energy Transition, was funded by the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy.
Rare Earth Elements: A Resource Constraint of the Energy Transition https://kleinmanenergy.upenn.edu/research/publications/rare-earth-elements-a-resource-constraint-of-the-energy-transition/
Electricity Storage and Renewables: How Investments Change as Technology Improves. https://kleinmanenergy.upenn.edu/research/publications/electricity-storage-and-renewables-how-investments-change-as-technology-improves/
Electric Vehicles in the City https://kleinmanenergy.upenn.edu/research/publications/electric-vehicles-in-the-city-the-relationship-of-ev-infrastructure-and-spatial-development-in-beijing/