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Substitution of critical raw materials in low-carbon technologies: lighting, wind turbines and electric vehicles

This report evaluates the substitution options of nine critical raw materials (CRM) (Eu, Tb, Y, In, Ga, Ge Nd, Pr and Dy) required in lighting, wind turbines and electric vehicles applications. Substitution has been considered from many perspectives from reducing the use of CRM via improved material efficiency to substitution at material and component level. Despite of many years of research, a direct and complete replacement of the critical raw materials in phosphors, LEDs and permanent magnets by other more easily available and less critical is still not commercially available. However, substitution has the potential to reduce the future demand for CRM in low-carbon technologies sector through improving material efficiency and component substitution. In lighting sector, markets have started shifting from fluorescent to light-emitting diode (LED) technology. This transition leads to declining the demand for terbium, europium, yttrium and germanium by 2020, though demand for gallium and indium tends to increase. In organic-LED (OLED) critical raw materials (with exception of indium) are substituted by organic compounds. It is expected that OLED technology will widely penetrate the general lighting market after 2025, thus further reducing the demand for phosphors and critical raw materials in lighting. Due to concerns regarding rare earths supply, some wind manufacturers started to develop, adopt or switch to alternative turbine technologies which rely on less rare earth or none at all. In parallel, research made relevant progress on reducing the amount of heavy rare earths, such as dysprosium or terbium, in wind turbines. Currently, there is large pool of rare earths-free turbine designs of more than 5 MW that can satisfy the wind power market. The future market share of different turbine types will highly depend on the development of rare earths prices and technological advantages. For offshore applications, sector in which the EU is leader, the direct drive permanent magnet synchronous generator (DD-PMSG) containing rare earths demonstrated a series of advantages especially in terms of efficiency and lower maintenance. In order to keep its leadership and competitiveness in the wind offshore sector, the EU should continue investing in rare earth substitution among adoption of other measures to secure rare earths supply. Currently, the permanent magnet synchronous traction motors (PSM) containing rare earths is the technology of choice for electric vehicles. Alternative rare earths-free electric motors (e.g. asynchronous or electrically excited synchronous machines) exist for battery electric vehicles (BEVs). The lack of component substitution for PSM in serial production of hybrid electric vehicles represents the major challenges because these models dominate today the EVs sector.