Neodynium, Energy and Mining
Monday, November 1, 2010 3:39:54 PM
China is preparing to build 330 giga-watts worth of wind generators. That will require about 59,000 tons of neodymium to make high-strength magnets, and that is more than that country's annual output of neodymium. Although China supplies the world with an incredible lot of rare earth elements, like neodymium, it will have little or none to export if it moves ahead with its wind power plans. China holds about a third of the known, exploitable global reserves of rare earths, and is currently good for about 97 % of the global rare earths production.
There are no primary rare earth mines yet discovered on the earth. The rare earth elements are like all other elements distributed throughout the earth’s crust. Neodymium itself is twice as plentiful as lead and half as abundant as copper in the earth’s crust and only cerium and lanthanum, of all of the rare earths, are more abundant than neodymium in the earth’s crust. Rare earths are found in groupings, which means that one type of ore body may contain a mix of the rare earths. China produces a little more than 125,000 tons neodynium a year in a western region of the country which is also a principal iron mining region. Neodymium today generates more than 25% of the gross revenues from all rare earth dependent end-use products being manufactured. It is projected that by 2014 this figure will be at least 50%. Economically then it is clearly the most valuable and the most important rare earth metal (for the time being, but this may of course change in the future).
Neodymium occurs in ores such as monazite and bastnäsite that contain small amounts of all the rare earth metals, neodymium typically comprising 10 to 18% of the rare earth content.
So to generate wind energy you need a lot of a relatively scarce metal, for which you rely on mining, with a lot of by-products, some of which you may be able to sell, others you will have to stock until they hopefully become of some interest for potential buyers. You will not least end up with a lot of mine tailings that are not only eyesores but also highly pollutant in most cases.
There is still a long way to go before wind power is fully clean and green. The move towards alternative energy sources is necessary and unavoidable, but we should never forget that any use of any energy has its costs and inconveniences, whether that is an inconvenient truth or not.