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:
- Will America ever love electric bikes?: The Chinese love their electric bikes but Americans give them no love. A Harley they are not.
- Va. study makes economic case for renewable energy: A regional study out from George Mason University looks at various options for addressing the 20 megawatt energy shortfall in Virginia and concludes that a renewable energy mix would create more jobs than coal or natural gas.
- Airbnb launches ‘Match’: Airbnb has introduced a new booking service that automates the process and streamlines it. Share on.
- Why tomorrow’s iPad will need a battery breakthrough (subscription required).