Recently, several news outlets reported on the shortage of rare earth elements and the effect the shortage may have on technology development within the energy industry. Specifically, rare earth elements are predominantly mined and refined in China, which is using more and exporting less of the resource. If that trend continues, there is speculation that wind development and other renewable energy investment outside China could suffer. The United States Geological Survey recognizes seventeen rare earth elements composed of scandium, yttrium, and fifteen different lanthanides. Notably, rare earth elements are vital to the growth of renewable energy technology, particularly wind development. For instance, Neodymium is the element that serves as the largest component of the magnets used in efficient wind turbines. Neodymium is also necessary for manufacturing some hybrid car batteries. Another rare earth, Europium is used in efficient LED light bulbs and also helps boost the efficient operating temperature of magnets.
Because China produces approximately 97 percent of all rare earth elements in the world, there is concern that wind energy development outside China could stagnate as China ramps up its own wind energy production and use of rare earth elements. China has also reduced rare earth element exports by 40 percent over the last seven years.
The United States meanwhile, has not produced rare earth elements in abundance, and the most significant domestic rare earth element deposit is in the Mountain Pass Mine in California. However, that mine was shut down in 2002. Additional deposits of rare earth elements are located in Alaska and parts of Canada. While there has been growing pressure in the United States to encourage more mining and re-open mines like Mountain Pass, there are several environmental concerns since rare earth elements are highly toxic.