Future Element Shortage: the Problems and the Challenges of Running Low

By

Home / Future Element Shortage: the Problems and the Challenges of Running Low

Dysprosium in the Future

Green technologies may be affected by elements shortage. Photo by Jean-Michel Baud.

Green technologies may be affected by elements shortage. Photo by Jean-Michel Baud.

Dysprosium demand has significantly increased in price and demand, according to a review published in Energy in December 2012. This study shows how dysprosium demand increased in recent years, due to a growth of the markets of the products where Dy is employed. The increase in the production of electric cars and wind turbines, for instance, caused an increase in the dysprosium demand. This, in turn, caused an increase in the price, which rose from about 500 to more than 3000 US $ between January and August 2011.

Further to the economic aspects of the use of dysprosium, political implications have to be considered as well. Currently 99 % of this element is mined in China. In the future, however, China intends to reduce the exports of rare earth, so new mines projects have to be developed outside that region to ensure a continuing supply of dysprosium. Although development of some sites has already started, it will take some time before these mines will be productive; this may affect Dy availability in the next few years (i.e. until 2020).

Element Shortage: Effects

The shortage of all these elements can have significant effects on many aspects of our everyday life. A reduction in fertilizer production, for instance, could cause huge problems to agriculture, and, consequently, to food production at a global level.

Other sectors, such as the environment, may also be affected. The target to reduce CO2 emissions, agreed by the Kyoto protocol, relies heavily on the contribution of green technologies, for the production of energy and/or the development of alternative means of transport. The use of rare earth metals such as dysprosium is essential for both these sectors.

Replacing Elements: Short and Long-term Solutions

The replacement of these elements is not something easy; the solution will be different for every element, depending on its characteristics, geographic availability and uses. Some strategies, however, will be the same for all the elements.

In the short term, these elements have to be used in a careful and controlled way, without wastage, and maximizing recycling and reuse of elements, when possible.

As a long-term solution, science must discover alternative materials based on different elements for critical functions such as food production. For this reason, it is essential to continue to study and to do research in the fields of chemistry, physics and materials science, both at fundamental and application levels.

Sources

Gilbert N., The disappearing nutrient. (2009) Nature, 461, 716-718.

US Department of Energy, Critical Materials Strategy. (2011). Accessed January 2013.

Hoenderdaal et al., Can a dysprosium shortage threaten green energy technology? (2013). Energy, 49, 344.

Chandler, D. Rare Earth Oxides Make Water Repellent Surfaces That Last. (2013). MIT. Accessed January 24, 2013.

Leave a Comment