Last week The Economist called attention to growing demand for rare earth minerals, their importance in clean energy technologies, and rising tension over their global supply.

Two of these minerals – dysprosium and neodymium – are essential components of the magnets used in wind turbines and electric motors. According to The Economist, for these technologies to play the role expected of them in reducing CO2 emissions, world supply of neodymium and dysprosium would need to increase “more than 700% and 2,600% respectively during the next 25 years.”

China, which produces around 90% of the world’s rare earth minerals, has recently applied production caps and export quotas on the minerals, which according to ChinaDaily, is part of China’s effort to “control environmental damage and protect the resources”. This supply reduction has driven up the price of these minerals, and has led the European Union, Japan, and the U.S. to file a grievance against China with the World Trade Organization.

Numerous bills have been introduced to address this issue, including the Hultgren bill (H.R. 2090) and Udall bill (S. 383) which would direct USGS and DOE to establish programs to analyze the prevalence, production, and supply of these elements. They identify additional steps to ensure a sustainable and long-term supply. These issues were the subject of a report by the American Physical Society Panel on Public Affairs & the Materials Research Society.

How important are rare earth minerals to present energy needs? To future energy needs? Is the U.S. doing enough to ensure a secure supply of these resources? What are your thoughts on the bills under consideration by Congress?