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Mining essential for renewable energy future

Refining and smelting methods for new types of ores are needed to secure the supply of rare metals and minerals for the renewable energy industry, according to the Geological Society of America.

The society warns that most industrialised countries have a high degree of dependency on foreign sources for the rare materials used in solar photovoltaics (PV), wind generators, fuel cells and high-capacity batteries.

Solar PV often consists of materials such as gallium, indium, selenium, tellurium and high purity silicon. Batteries require zinc, vanadium, lithium, and fuel cells often require platinum group minerals.

China is one of the biggest providers of rare metals, but according to James Burnell at the Colorado Geological Survey, the country is increasingly requiring those materials for domestic use.

He explains that to build 330 GW of wind turbines, China will require about 59,000 tonnes of neodymium to make high-strength magnets – which is higher than the country’s annual neodymium output.

The Geological Society of America therefore emphasises the importance of continued mining efforts and developments in extraction and refining methods.

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Energy storage including Fuel cells  •  Photovoltaics (PV)  •  Policy, investment and markets  •  Wind power