2 Comments

Summary:

You can’t build an iPhone battery without many rare earth elements and China controls about 90 percent of the rare earth supply.

Fab-Main-iPad_iPad2-black

This originally appeared on GigaOM Pro, our premium subscription research service.

When thinking about cleantech, I tend to think in terms of resources and supply constraints, meaning that when we switch from a fossil fuel like coal to a renewable resource like wind, I consider what natural resources we’re now dependent on. So Damien Ma’s piece this week in Foreign Affairs caught my attention. Ma profiles China’s attempts to lock up and put government controlled pricing on the rare earths market because it currently controls about 90 percent of the rare earth supply (elements like lanthanum and cerium).

China doesn’t want to limit pricing, it wants to drive it up because it knows, for example, you can’t build an iPhone battery without many rare earth elements. These moves matter to the renewable energy market because products like electric vehicle batteries  and wind turbines, which require rare earths to produce components like permanent magnets, are highly resource dependent. And primarily dependent on Chinese sources.

Ma points out that China could start to hoard rare earths for its own renewable energy needs as it addresses its own skyrocketing energy needs. It’s true that China’s behavior may invite competitors, but its worth remembering that switching to any energy source involves new resource dependencies.

Here’s what else I’m reading today:

  1. Why can’t China increase its research and use of solar, geothermal, and wind energy? And what will china do with that controlling state when some of the alternatives being developed, and researched upon become feasible, on an industrial scale? What then will China do?

    Share
  2. Uma Subramaniam Tuesday, May 1, 2012

    There are already companies like C3Nano that are developing viable alternatives to technologies that use rare earths like indium. The world is not waiting.

    Share

Comments have been disabled for this post