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Critical Materials for a Clean Energy Future

October 19, 2011 - 5:46pm

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Earlier this month, United States, Japanese and European Union officials, along with a number of industry stakeholders, met for a “Trilateral Conference on Critical Materials for a Clean Energy Future.” I had the opportunity to give a keynote address and discuss the role of critical materials in clean energy technologies with a wide range of experts.

Last year, the Energy Department released its first-ever Critical Materials Strategy. The report found that four clean energy technologies—wind turbines, electric vehicles, photovoltaic cells and fluorescent lighting—use materials at risk of supply disruptions in the next five years. In the report, five rare earth elements (dysprosium, neodymium, terbium, europium and yttrium), as well as indium, were assessed as most critical in the short term. For this purpose, “criticality” was a measure that combined importance to the clean energy economy and the risk of supply disruption.

With the world on the cusp of a clean energy revolution, critical materials are more important than ever. Adequate supplies, substitute materials, recycling and re-use are all vital. Working with experts from around the world, we can leverage complementary strengths to help address these challenges. International cooperation in this area is especially important and last week’s conference builds on previous meetings, which included three technical workshops on rare earth metals and other critical materials in the past year.

The Energy Department will continue working with our partners around the world to share and develop technology for mining and extraction of critical materials, as well as substitutes and avenues to recycle and reuse our current supply. All countries have a shared interest in making sure there is a diverse supply and effective use of critical materials. We will continue working to ensure that the U.S. can compete and win in the burgeoning clean energy economy, and be a leader in the manufacturing of clean energy technology.

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