There’s another rare earth metal that’s critically important to our society—neodymium. In 1984, General Motors and Sumitomo developed the neodymium iron boron alloy for permanent magnets, which is the basis of all modern electric motors because it allows you to make a very small electric motor with the highest possible power density. Neodymium total world production is less than 20,000 tons. That may sound like a lot to you, but it’s tiny. And the fact is it’s recently been projected that a single wind turbine electric generator producing 1 megawatt of electricity requires one ton of neodymium.Lifton claims that some time between 2011 and 2013 China plans to stop exporting rare earths. At that point if no other source of rare earths is found, wind generation manufacturers would no longer have access to neodymium magnets used in wind generators.
I have been unable to find independent verification of Lifton's claim that one ton of neodymium or so is required for every MW of wind generating capacity. This is quite typical about renewables data sources. Renewables advocates almost always ignore questions about materials inputs into renewables technology. Most renewables advocates themselves have no idea what a rare earth is and what neodymium does in a generator. Lets face it, if all of the wind advocates left the country, the average IQ would go up substantially.
Substitution for neodymium is possible in wind generators, but apparently at a price. Neodymium lowers magnet weight. Magnets built with alternative materials and alternative technologies weigh more. Heavier turbines will require more support, which means more concrete and steel in the support tower, and greater materials and construction cost for the wind turbine. Lifton's latest assertions about neodymium demonstrate that the implications of the renewables paradigm are poorly worked out, and there is a great deal renewables advocates don't know about the technology they are hyping.