Accessibility links

Breaking News

Study Says World Has Enough Rare Earth Metals for Green Energy

FILE - Raw Rare Earth ore waiting to be processed at Vital Metals in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada January 16, 2023. (REUTERS/Nayan Sthankiya)
Study Says World Has Enough Rare Earth Metals for Green Energy
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:04:57 0:00

A recent study says there are enough rare earth metals on Earth for new “low-carbon electricity generation” technologies.

Rare earth metals come from minerals found in countries around the world.

The researchers said more mining is needed to make more of the valuable metals available to industry. Rare earth metals are in demand for products such as magnets, wind turbines, solar panels and computers. All are part of the “green energy” push to remove carbon gases from electricity generation.

The researchers said the amount of minerals available is enough to supply a switch to renewable energy. They wrote that the carbon gasses “related to electricity infrastructure may be substantial.” But the study said it would be between one and nine percent of the world’s budget for carbon gas production.

The study came out recently in the science publication Joule.

Zeke Hausfather helped write the study. He is an expert who works at a technology company called Stripe and at Berkeley Earth, a non-profit climate research group. He called the process “big and messy.” But he thinks reducing carbon gases, or “decarbonization,” can be done. He said he is not worried about the long-term supply of rare earth materials.

However, the scientists warn that in the early days of the switch to green energy, there will be shortages. For example, there could be a shortage of the element called dysprosium. It is used to make strong magnets. Industry will require three times more of the metal than is produced now. However, there is 12 times more dysprosium available than needed, the researchers said.

An example of a solar farm. (Photo: Business Wire)
An example of a solar farm. (Photo: Business Wire)

Another element is tellurium, which is used in large groups of solar panels, called solar farms. There is just enough of that material available if the world makes a fast push to solar power, the researchers said. In addition, there are other materials that can be used instead of tellurium if needed.

Daniel Ibarra is an environment professor at Brown University. He did not take part in the study but knows about lithium shortages. He told the Associated Press that the study was “robust” and “debunks” concerns about running out of rare earth materials. He said the main question is if production of the materials can keep up with demand.

The United States Geological Survey reports that the countries with the largest supplies of rare earth metals are China, Vietnam, Russia and Myanmar, also known as Burma.

The study also noted that mining causes pollution. But the scientists said that if the world switches to green energy, the mining will not be a problem.

A high-tension electricity power line pylon is seen in front of power-generating windmill turbines at a wind park in Couffe near Nantes, France, on January 27, 2023. (REUTERS/Stephane Mahe)
A high-tension electricity power line pylon is seen in front of power-generating windmill turbines at a wind park in Couffe near Nantes, France, on January 27, 2023. (REUTERS/Stephane Mahe)

Rob Jackson is an energy expert and studies how humans affect the earth, but was not involved in the study. He is a professor at Stanford University. He said even with evidence that there are enough rare earth materials, humans should still be concerned with creating less pollution. “Along with mining more, we should be using less,” he said.

The study centered on the creation of electric power and did not look at the materials used in electric car batteries. Hausfather said that study is too complicated and will be examined by the team next.

I’m Dan Friedell.

Dan Friedell adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on a report by the Associated Press.


Words in This Story

generation –n. the process of creating something, especially electricity

wind turbine –n. an electricity generator that uses wind for power

solar panel –n. a flat device that changes sunlight into electricity

infrastructure –n. structures, like roads, bridges and power stations, that are needed to operate a modern country

substantial –adj. a large amount, size or number

messy –adj. not organized or cared for

robust –adj. strong or impressive

debunk –v. to show that something is not true


We want to hear from you. Do you think the world will push fast enough for these materials?

We have a new comment system. Here is how it works:

  1. Write your comment in the box.
  2. Under the box, you can see four images for social media accounts. They are for Disqus, Facebook, Twitter and Google.
  3. Click on one image and a box appears. Enter the login for your social media account. Or you may create one on the Disqus system. It is the blue circle with “D” on it. It is free.

Each time you return to comment on the Learning English site, you can use your account and see your comments and replies to them. Our comment policy is here.