Monday, January 26, 2009

Wind and Neodymium

Jack Lifton's research on mineral resources make him an important figure in projecting the future of energy. Lifton spotted the Lemhi Pass thorium reserve discoveries early on, Lifton has recently focused on world rare earth production, and as Lifton has pointed out, rare earths will play important roles in the future of energy. Lifton pointed out the importance of the rare earth element neodymium for the wind generation industry.
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.

16 comments:

Jim Baerg said...

Something that is unclear from this post is to what extent a shortage of neodymium would affect other sources of electricity. The heavier magnets etc. would increase the cost & size of hydroelectric, fossil fuel & nuclear generators also.

I would expect that the greater capacity factor of these other energy sources would make this less of a problem, but I don't *know* that.

Anonymous said...

Could you please clarify an inconsistency in your post? Is one ton of neodymium needed for 1MW of wind or 1 GW? Thank you.

Charles Barton said...

According to Lifton it is one ton per MW of rated capacity. (I have been unable to confirm this from other sources, but Lifton is usually accurate,)

donb said...

Jim Baerg said
Something that is unclear from this post is to what extent a shortage of neodymium would affect other sources of electricity.

Wind turbine designers like to use neodymium permanent magnets (of fixed strength) because the generators are relatively small (a few MW compared to over 1000 MW in some large nuke plants) and need to be light weight to reduce demands on the tower structure.

For a ground-based power plant, heavier but much less expensive steel and copper are used to make electromagnets that have controllable strength.

There are additional details. Many modern wind turbines (like those from GE) minimize generator mass by allowing the generators to rotate at speeds determined by the wind, and then used electronics (housed in the tower base, I think) to convert the power to 50 or 60 Hz and do VAR compensation. In ground-based power plants, the generators are spun by (controllable) steam turbines at a fixed speed to match their output frequency to the power line frequency, no large power-handling electronics involved. VAR compensation is also done, using the controllable electromagnets, again without large power-handling electronics.

I won't even get into the uncontrollable output power of wind turbines.

Charles Barton said...

Limited neodymium would mean heavier towers and heabier generators, all add to the expense of wind.

Peter Scott said...

Another approach is to build vertical-axis wind turbines with the generators on the ground, which would eliminate the need to beef up the towers to support the generator weight. Of course, VAWTs are currently less efficient and there are a whole host of miscellaneous hurdles they need to overcome.

Gareth Hatch said...

I have recently published a number of articles at http://www.terramagnetica.com on this very subject.

Reduction of mass in the turbine nacelle is certainly an element here. The key driver though, for the use of permanent magnet [PM] direct drive generators in wind turbines, is to eliminate the need for the huge mechanical gearbox associated with conventional induction generator systems. Neodymium [Nd] is a key constituent of the PMs used in those systems.

As commercial-scale wind turbines get larger and larger, the mechanical gear box, and associated mechanical bearings, become more and more complicated and potentially problematic from a maintenance and reliability point of view. In non-PM generator systems, these gear boxes are required to translate the low speed of rotation of the rotor and blades, into the high speeds necessary for electricity generation. A PM generator system can reduce or even eliminate the need for the mechanical gearbox, thus significantly increasing the reliability and reducing the maintenance cycle.

This becomes more and more critical as we look to off-shore wind farms and the costs associated with down time and maintenance in such farms. It will take time for the number of PM-based generators to increase, but it is likely that they will.

Finally, my calculations indicate that around 600 kg of Nd-based PMs are required per 1 MW of power produced, in multi-MW wind turbine systems. This works out to be around 200 kg of elemental Nd. Smaller systems probably need more Nd per unit of power produced.

You can get more detail on the above by reading the following articles:

* Why Are Wind Turbines Getting Bigger? - http://bit.ly/bS98N
* How Does The Use Of Permanent Magnets Make Wind Turbines More Reliable? http://bit.ly/sbsx7
* 10 MW And Beyond: Are Superconductors The Future Of Wind Energy? http://bit.ly/OgCSq

Gareth Hatch said...

Apologies - the correct link for the second article is:

* How Does The Use Of Permanent Magnets Make Wind Turbines More Reliable? - bit.ly/e1fyv

Petter said...

Well. If you count the costs of nuclear you end up paying more, (unless of course you disregard the insurance costs, and costs for safe disposal), but that is some creative book-keeping.

Take the cost of Uranium mining, the liquidity to finance the cost of an accident ($70 to $246 billion USD) for the Japanees accident.

Consider then that one windmill park today can generate the same amount of electricity as one nuclear generator. 2 such large scale projects are under way in Scandinavia. You end up with a more sustainable and realistic picture. The comment about that if the "renewable people left IQ would go up" is extremely silly, immature and wrong, and unfortunately it makes me wonder if you really know anything about wind turbines past the 60:s at all.
Then again, you might be an american, and then it is no wonder that you are left behind in the wind mill development.

Charles Barton said...

Petter The cost of fuel and insurance are already included in the cost of nuclear power. The Japanese government would have had to carry most of the cost of Fukushima recovery even if the Japanese reactors were theoretically covered at the ammount you indicate. The Japanese Earthquake, tsunami event costJapanese Insurance companies mny times more than the Fukushima events, and surly all would have been completely bankrupted while only covering a smale part of the loss. A 1000 GW wind facility, can at best generate 50% of the average output of a 1 GW reactor, and usually generate it when electricity is not in high demand.

Your factual errors are examples of the silly mistakes renewable advocates make. But then you might be German and plotting the death of millions of people via a renewable engendered holocaust.

Green Neck Consulting said...

Just FYI, this is not a sudden demand on rare earth because of wind turbines, these magnets are used in computer hard drives, MRI machines, and just about any place where magnets are used these days:
http://www.whatareneodymiummagnets.com/uses.html

Charles Barton said...

Of course, do you really think that I know nothing about the use of rare earths?

paintitblack said...

You say: "A 1000 GW wind facility, can at best generate 50% of the average output of a 1 GW reactor, and usually generate it when electricity is not in high demand. "

Load factors in the UK are about 27- 30%. Therefore a 1000 GW wind facility would on average produce 270 GW. However what's the load factor for nukes? They don't operate full bore 24/365. In the UK they have a load factor of, at best, 70%.

Duoy said...

It's the first time I know Neodymium magnets has so much power as green as wind. That's good news for the world.

Investor said...

Interestingly, there are two large tonnage rare earth deposits with significant percentages of neodymium content worth noting that have been recently discovered with resource estimates given that could be neodymium game changers in terms of increased availability, applications and use.

Geomega rare earth and Commerce resources, both with individual large tonnage LREE deposits out of Quebec, have billion pound or larger deposits of neodymium each. Current world consumption is roughly 40 million pounds meaning at current consumption levels, Quebec alone has an undeveloped 50+ year supply. Lets keep this in mind as China introduces export quota's on select rare earths and manufacturers use electromagnets vs neodymium PMs in answer to neodymium availability and cost but my point is simple. Within the last year a 50+ year supply of neodymium has been discovered that could change everything concerning neodymium from price and availability to increased neodymium applications and its needed not only for power generation but power consumption via e cars, hybrid and other various forms of electric transportation. The future of neodymium looks bright both in terms of supply and demand unless I'm missing something.

Gary Sharp said...

I've been learning a lot lately about neodymium magnets. They are really interesting. Can you buy them anywhere?

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