Trade Wars Predicted Over New Energy Materials

Declining reserves of energy minerals are pushing up prices for materials used in alternative energy sources. James Burnell of the Colorado Geological Survey is warning the Geological Society of America that the rare metals needed to build alternative energy generators will trigger a trade war.

To make wind generators, photovoltaic panels and fuel cells for hybrid and electrical vehicles one needs rare earth metals such as gallium, indium, selenium, tellurium, platinum and high purity silicon. For high capacity batteries you need zinc, vanadium, lithium and rare earth elements.

The trouble is that these metals and minerals are indeed rare. This means that most of the industrialized world is fighting for the limited supply of these materials. So far the largest supplier of these rare earth materials was China. Now the country needs them for use domestically and is reducing exports.

With China getting set to build about 330 giga watts worth of wind generators they will need 59,000 tons of neodymium to make the high strength magnets. This is more than the annual output of China's neodymium mines.

The problem is serious one but the policy makers do not seem to be taking any cognizance of it. New sources of these rare materials need to be found and tapped. This is possible if some proactive action is taken or else the world will feel the shortage of these materials in another decade in a big way.

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