In the light of the Chinese hegemony for its own energy projects, it is feared that restrictions in the global supply of rare earth elements (REEs)will ensue. Until last year, China provided some 97% of the REEs available in the world, which are used increasingly to fabricate the magnets in wind-turbines and in electric vehicles. As China expands its own use of energy, including that from renewable sources, the nation intends to hold-back its exports of REEs for its own use, with potential impacts on the development of renewable energy such as from wind across the world. Last year's abrupt curtailment in exports from China has led to a gap in supply for REEs.
In response to this threat, the European Union (EU) is looking into building a stockpile of REEs, in the form of a mixed carbonate of these metals. This follows-on from the British government's recent "strategic metals plan", in which securing supplies of key metals including REEs is perceived as critical to the future economy and in meeting carbon-emissions targets. It is proposed that an annual 3,000 tonnes of REE mixed carbonate be garnered.
This amount is the stable output of the European Molycorp Silmet production of the material and is matched by that from the company's U.S.-based REE production, amounting to 10% of the world market following the imposition of quotas by China.
The growth of the mighty Chinese economy has taken its toll on the U.S.-based solar energy firm, Solyndra, which has filed for bankruptcy - indeed the third such company to fold against Chinese competition recently. Such growth must be underpinned by resources, of metals and other elements, and of energy. It is predicted that by 2020, Chinese demand for crude oil will match that of the U.S., and one can only wonder at what point supply of such critical commodities will fail.