US Government Seeking Rare Earth Metals as Alternative Fuels

May 23, 2010 Updated: May 23, 2010

The US Department of Energy (DOE) wants to know all the rare earth metals used in energy production, to make a first-ever strategic plan for applying these rare metals in a wide range of energy efficient technologies.

Rare earth metals are used in the production of wind turbines, hybrid vehicles, solar planes, energy efficient light bulbs, capacitors, sensors, and electricity transmission.

“Although rare earth metals are found in many places on Earth, including the United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil and South Africa, they are difficult to extract in profitable quantities without substantial time and cost,” said David Sandlow, the Assistant Secretary for Policy & International Affairs for the US Department of Energy at the Technology and Rare Earth Metals Conference 2010.

Sandlow notes that 95 percent of the global supply of rare earth metals is produced in China. However, because we are “on the cusp of a clean energy revolution,” Sandlow suggests that we pursue strategies in obtaining rare earth metals.

Sandlow went on to describe that it would take 120 tons of copper to produce only 30 grams of rhenium, a very valuable metal used in the production of “superalloys” which can function under very high stress and are used in the world’s most energy-efficient gas turbines.

The DOE is issueing a Request for Information (RFI), which was formally announced on May 6, and will be extended to industry, academia, research laboratories, government agencies, and stakeholders of materials used in the energy sector. Information can only be submitted online prior to the June 7 deadline.