Last week I wrote* generally and critically about Kalbar Resources Rare Earth (RE) claims for their Fingerboards Mineral Sands project. In short their website claimed that REs were an ‘essential’ component for permanent magnets in both wind turbines and electric motors. Their promotional material implied, but did not state outright, that the revolution in wind generation and electric vehicles could not occur without the Fingerboards mine. I disputed this but did not provide much detail.
So having published the blog I continued the search for more evidence and came across an Amory Lovins article published last year. Entitled “Clean Energy and Rare Earths: why not to worry” the article focusses mainly on supply and demand of REs and to a much lesser extent on their specific interest to us. In this article Lovins is most enlightening.
The ‘myth’ that REs are essential to the renewable energy revolution as permanent magnets in wind turbines and electric motors appears to have originated in “2015 [when a] MIT Technology Review asked, “What Happened to the Rare-Earths Crisis?”… [and] misleadingly called rare earths “crucial to the permanent magnets used in wind turbines and motors in hybrid or electric cars…”
Lovins expanded: “Some such reports persist even in 2017. But they’re nonsense. Everything that such permanent-magnet rotating machines do can also be done as well or better by two other kinds of motors that have no magnets but instead apply modern control software and power electronics made of silicon, the most abundant solid element on Earth. The first kind is the induction motor, invented by Nikola Tesla 130 years ago and used in every Tesla electric car today. The second kind, less well-known despite origins tracing back to 1842, is the switched reluctance (SR) machine, likewise made of just iron and (less) copper, but using a different geometry and operating principle.”
It is clear that the rapid adoption of renewable energy is the first step to mitigate global warming. This includes the widespread, if not universal, adoption of both wind generation and electric motors. Kalbar’s intention is to exploit this but their claim for REs and permanent magnets is both incorrect and misleading. One wonders how many of their other claims will stand up to close scrutiny.
*In this I noted my intention to do a future blog on Kalbar’s carbon emissions. I have since learned that their emissions will be part of their Environmental Effects Statement on Air Quality. The emissions are yet to be calculated but “likely to be more than 200,000 tons of CO2 equivalent per annum.”