Peak Oil for Lithium-Ion Battery and EV Technology?

Posted: June 9th, 2009 by Militant Libertarian

by Aaron Turpen

There are some rare earth metals that are vital to electric motor production, lithium-ion battery storage, and other electric vehicle concerns. One of them, dysprosium, is essential for almost all electric motor and generator applications: cars, wind turbines, and more.

A recent report in the Times Online says that China currently holds 95% of that and other rare earth metals’ production. Byron King, an analyst of commodities, puts that number at 97% and the Financial Times says it’s over 90%. Any of those three numbers says that not only are these things rare, they’re under the almost exclusive control of China.

Since dysprosium is so vital to electric vehicle and motor production, does this mean that we’re trading energy dependence from one foreign power to another? Going from the MIddle East to China with our energy dependence?

Several rare earth metals are present in almost all magnets, which are central to the design of nearly all electric turbine generators and high-output electric motors as well.

So can we move to make ourselves independent by finding our own supplies of these rare earth metals closer to home? Maybe, but that involves speculation, mining, and purification. We have little technology in the Americas for that and many roadblocks for the implementation here.

Not only does mining for these metals take years to establish, but like all mining, it’s destructive and likely to occur on land that environmental lobbies would prefer to see protected. This leads to sort of a conundrum.

The problem here isn’t just with the production of electrics. Hybrids, including hydrogen fuel-cell hybrids, are in the same boat.

I don’t have the answers to this question, but it’s one that needs addressing. We can’t just ignore it. We could literally be trading oil dependence for heavy earth metals dependence and end up no closer to energy independence than we were before.

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