As renewable energy finally takes off, China, which controls 97% of the global supply of rare earth elements, vital to much renewable technology, has tightened supply. As industry and governments around the world scramble for solutions, the complex process of recycling rare earths has moved into the spotlight. Ben Messenger investigates.Over recent years there has been much discussion across the world of declining fossil fuel supplies, ‘peak oil’ and the increasingly urgent need for sustainable energy production. And that talk has not gone unanswered. According to the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21) in 2009 over $160 billion was invested globally in renewable energy capacity and manufacturing facilities, a figure that in the face of severe economic conditions rose to $211 billion in 2010.
In the U.S. renewable energy accounted for an estimated 25% of newly installed generating capacity in 2010 and by the end of the year made up 11.6% of total capacity. Meanwhile China added some 29 GW of renewable capacity, which now accounts for around 26% of its total capacity. In the same year renewables accounted for some 41% of new capacity in the EU with 22.6 GW of installations. Globally 39 GW of wind capacity was installed taking the total to 198 MW, while the total existing Solar Photovoltaic (PV) capacity grew 72% in 2010 to around 40 GW.
Clearly, when it comes to renewable energy the world has put its money where its mouth is. Few could argue that’s a bad thing, while some still claim that it’s too little too late. Either way, for all the benefits the shift towards ‘green’ energy brings, it also creates problems of its own – or at least greatly exacerbates existing ones.
Read the full article and Gschneidner’s comments here.