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Minor metals and renewable energy—Diversifying America’s energy sources

August 16, 2017

Solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind turbine technologies are projected to make up an increasing proportion of electricity generation capacity in the United States in the coming decades. By 2050, they will account for 36 percent (or 566 gigawatts) of capacity compared with about 11 percent (or 118 gigawatts) in 2016 (fig. 1; EIA, 2017).

There are several different types of commercial solar PV and wind turbine technologies, and each type makes use of different minor metals. “Minor metal” is the term used for metals for which world production is small compared with the more widely produced base metals, and they are often produced as byproducts of the mining or processing of base metals. Minor metals used in renewable energy technologies often have complex supply chains, are often produced primarily outside of the United States, and are also used in many other applications. A larger amount of minor metals will be needed in the future to support the projected increases in solar PV and wind energy production capacity (Nassar and others, 2016).

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