Full Title: Rare Earth Elements: A Resource Constraint of the Energy Transition
Author(s): Oscar Serpell, Benjamin Paren, Wan-Yi Chu
Publisher(s): Kleinman Center for Energy Policy
Publication Date: May 18, 2021
Full Text: Download Resource
Climate change is presenting humans with an unprecedented challenge: the need to wean ourselves off of a group of valuable natural resources; not because of scarcity or cost, but because of their long-term global pollution impacts. Although the combined capabilities of wind, solar, hydropower, and geothermal technologies have the potential to harness near limitless amounts of energy from our environment, they are not free from the limitations of resource availability. On the contrary, the clean energy transition will require economic mobilization on a scale not seen since the industrial revolution, and will strain the global production of silicon, cobalt, lithium, manganese, and a host of other critical elements (Behr 2019). One group of natural resources that may prove essential for the next generation of electric motors and turbines are the rare earth elements (REEs)—17 elements consisting of scandium, yttrium, and the 15 lanthanides (Institute of Rare Earths and Strategic Metals, n.d.).
In this digest, we explore how and why this consolidation of the REE market occurred, and what the tradeoffs are of increased global production. We also discuss several policies to ensure that future production of REEs does not slow the adoption of clean energy technology.