Critical Mineral Commodities in Renewable Energy
To make America’s economy and defense more secure, the Administration has released “A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals.” Among other roles, these mineral commodities are vital to renewable energy infrastructure like solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries.
Solar Panels | Wind Turbines | Batteries
Several of the 35 mineral commodities listed as critical by the Department of the Interior play an important role in solar panels, where the Sun’s energy is transformed to electricity. (Photovoltaic Cell Diagram)
High-purity arsenic is used to produce gallium-arsenide semiconductors for solar cells. In 2018, the United States was 100% reliant on foreign sources for arsenic.
Image Source: Géry PARENT
Used in gallium-arsenide and copper-indium-gallium-diselenide thin-film solar cells. In 2018, the United States was 100% reliant on foreign sources for gallium.
Germanium-based solar cells are commonly used in satellites. In 2018, the United States was more than 50% reliant on foreign sources for germanium.
Image Source: Rob Lavinsky
Used in copper-indium-gallium-diselenide thin-film solar cells. In 2018, the United States was 100% reliant on foreign sources for indium.
Image Source: Nerdtalker
Used in cadmium-tellurium thin-film solar cells. In 2018, the United States relied on foreign sources for more than 75% of its tellurium.
Image Source: Rob Lavinsky
Wind turbines increasingly dot the American landscape, rising hundreds of feet in the air to capture electricity from the movement of the wind. Just like solar cells, wind turbines also rely on a few mineral commodities that have been designated as critical: aluminum and rare-earth elements. (Typical Wind Turbine and Major Components)
Aluminum plays a role in most parts of a wind turbine, particularly in the nacelle, where the transfer of wind power to electricity occurs. The United States was 50% reliant on foreign sources for aluminum in 2018.
Responsible for some of the most powerful and efficient magnets on the planet, rare-earth elements enable wind turbines to have smaller, lighter generators. Although the United States mined and exported rare-earth minerals in 2018, it relied on imports to meet its domestic demands for rare-earth compounds, metals, and manufactured products.
Batteries play an important supporting role for renewable energy sources like wind and solar, allowing excess power to be stored for usage when direct solar or wind power are unavailable. Just like the energy sources they complement, modern batteries rely on critical mineral commodities, particularly cobalt, graphite, lithium, and manganese.
On a global basis, the leading use of cobalt is in rechargeable battery electrodes. In 2018, the United States relied on foreign sources for 61% of the cobalt it consumed.
Image Source: James St. John
Graphite serves as an electrode in many lithium batteries. In 2018, the United States was 100% reliant on foreign sources for graphite.
Lithium has a long history in batteries and is a common material used in batteries today. In 2018, the United States was more than 50% reliant on foreign sources for lithium.
Manganese serves as an electrode in many lithium batteries. The United States was 100% reliant on foreign sources for manganese in 2018.
The USGS delivers unbiased science and information to increase understanding of ore formation, undiscovered mineral resource potential, production, consumption, and how minerals interact with the environment. The USGS supports data collection and research on a wide variety of non-fuel mineral resources that are important to the Nation’s economic and national security. The agency’s mission is to provide reliable scientific information to describe and understand the Earth; minimize loss of life and property from natural disasters; manage water, biological, energy, and mineral resources; and enhance and protect our quality of life. For more information, please visit www.usgs.gov.
- Byproduct Mineral Commodities Used for the Production of Photovoltaic Cells, USGS, Circular 1365
- Wind Energy in the United States and Materials Required for the Land-Based Wind Turbine Industry From 2010 Through 2030, USGS, Scientific Investigations Report 2011–5036
- Mineral Commodity Summaries 2019, USGS, Mineral Commodity Summaries
Trump Administration Announces Strategy to Strengthen America's Economy, Defense
Interior to Support Critical Minerals Strategy through Faster Permitting, Better Information, Nationwide Examination of Minerals Potential