Braking Wind: Where’s The Neodymium Going To Come From?

by Jack Lifton on March 4, 2009

in News Analysis, Permanent Magnets, Rare Earths, Wind Turbines

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It has been estimated that to build the latest and most efficient one megawatt (MW) capacity wind turbine-powered electric generator, requires one metric ton (t) of the rare earth metal neodymium for use in a permanent magnet made from the alloy neodymium-iron-boron (Nd-Fe-B). The total amount of neodymium produced annually in the USA is at most 600 t, and all of it is used already to build Nd-Fe-B magnets for various applications. The current US installed capacity for electricity generation is 1,000 GW (1000 MW), of which 0.6%, 6 GW, is generated from wind turbines. The global annual production of neodymium, essentially all of which is mined in China, is today at an all time historical high of 26,500 t.

There is no significant neodymium production surplus.

Therefore the neodymium would have to be obtained from new production and such production would have to be over and above the total projected demand for 2014 already estimated at 38,000 t, 50% greater than today’s production and demand.

The only possible sources for this extra production would be:

  1. Lynas (Mount Weld, Australia)
  2. Arafura Resources (Nolan’s Bore, Australia)
  3. Molycorp (Mountain Pass, California)
  4. Great Western Minerals Group (Hoidas Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada)
  5. Avalon Rare Metals (Thor Lake, Northwest Territories, Canada)
  6. Thorium Energy (Lemhi Pass, Idaho)

Not a single one of the above mining ventures has yet produced a single gram of commercial rare earth metal, although numbers 1 and 2 above are claimed to be “ready to go,” and 3 above was until 2000 a producing mine, which in 1994, for example, was the world’s largest single point rare earth mining and refining operation, with an annual total production of 20,000 t.

Companies number 4,5, and 6 above are all in the process of validating resources and reserves and developing refining processes.

Various factors have recently brought the physical operations of all of the above companies to a halt, so that at the present time there is no foreseeable alternative to Chinese sourcing for rare earth metals at any date certain in the near term.

China does not have any known plans to divert any of its present or near term neodymium production to foreign manufacturers, for the production of large scale permanent magnets for American wind turbine electricity generation.

Therefore American wind turbine electric power generation must be on hold unless it is to be accomplished using outmoded, outdated, and therefore very inefficient and expensive iron based magnet technology.

There is no point in getting excited about building the structural components for wind power electricity generation in Michigan or anywhere else, if the turbine generators cannot be built due to natural resource limitations.

Perhaps the brilliant minds of Wall Street and Washington should revisit their knee-jerk opposition to American mining, before they make plans for renewable energy sources.

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