The US risks major supply disruptions of rare earth metals used in clean energy products unless it diversifies its sources of the minerals, the US Department of Energy was to warn in a report due to be released late yesterday.
The US and other countries are worried that China, which controls 97 percent of the world trade in rare earth metals, will use those supplies as a political weapon and cut back their export when it is in a dispute with another country or to grow China’s clean energy technology sector.
“The availability of a number of these materials is at risk due to their location, vulnerability to supply disruptions and lack of suitable substitutes,” US Energy Secretary Steven Chu (朱棣文) was to say in a report, due to be unveiled yesterday at a rare earth metals conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The release of the report coincides with trade talks in Washington between the US and China.
US officials are expected to push Chinese officials to loosen export restraints on rare earth elements.
China, which said on Tuesday it planned to raise export taxes on some rare earth metals beginning next month, holds 37 percent of known rare metal reserves, the US has 13 percent and the rest is in other countries.
The 17 rare earth metals, with exotic names like lanthanum and europium, form unusually strong lightweight materials and are used in a wide range of applications including high-tech and defense products, car engines and clean energy.
The US Department of Energy said in its report that it looked at the use of rare earths in wind turbines, electric vehicles, solar cells and energy efficient lighting because these clean technologies are expected to be deployed substantially on a global basis over the next 15 years, increasing demand for rare earth metals.
It said that to manage the risk of rare earth supply disruptions, the US must increase its domestic extraction and processing of the materials.