Why Is Neodymium Used In Wind Turbines?

With the rising development of wind turbines, China has announced that rare metals, particularly neodymium magnets, will be in higher demand. As a result, renewable manufacturers must ask themselves, “Will there be a supply of neodymium magnets?” The solution is straightforward: the amount of rare earth magnets produced will increase. Although China has stated that it plans to significantly enhance the construction of wind turbines, there may come a day when rare earth magnet exports are restricted.

This raises serious worries about the availability of rare earth metals in the future, posing a significant challenge for those who rely significantly on Chinese supplies. Manufacturers have considered creating wind turbines without neodymium magnets, which is conceivable but unlikely to meet the rigorous standards now in use. Because of their strength and small size, neodymium magnets are the natural choice in wind turbine manufacture. This decreases the weight of the turbine greatly. Turbines will be far less successful without them, and the money invested in their development may be wasted.

Magnets are utilized in wind turbines for a variety of reasons.

Magnets are used in some of the world’s most powerful wind turbines. Wind is one of the most rapidly expanding sustainable energy sources. As a result, the function of magnets in assisting in the creation of clean energy should not be disregarded, as it is in line with the mega-trend of sustainability and all of its advantages. Magnets are being utilized in many wind farms across the world to cut costs, improve dependability, and extend maintenance intervals, as well as to minimize the cost of new turbine building by eliminating the need for more expensive equipment mounting solutions.

In a wind turbine, how much neodymium is used?

Wind energy is promoted as being more environmentally friendly than traditional energy sources such as coal and natural gas. The wind energy industry, for example, says that it cuts carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute to global warming.

Another environmental trade-off concerns the materials required for wind turbine construction. Rare earth minerals, particularly from China, are used in modern wind turbines. Unfortunately, due to federal rules restricting rare earth mineral growth in the United States and China’s poor environmental stewardship record, the process of obtaining these minerals has disastrous environmental and public health consequences for local people. Big Wind doesn’t want you to hear this story.

Wind turbine manufacturing is a time-consuming and resource-intensive operation. A typical wind turbine is made up of around 8,000 individual parts, many of which are composed of steel, cast iron, or concrete. Magnets made of neodymium and dysprosium, rare earth minerals almost exclusively produced in China, which controls 95 percent of the world’s supply of rare earth minerals, are one such component.

The Daily Mail’s Simon Parry visited Baotou, China, to examine the rare-earth mines, factories, and dumping areas involved with the Chinese rare-earths business. What he discovered was extremely harrowing:

The banks got higher, the lake grew larger, and the stink and fumes became more oppressive as more factories sprouted up.

Mr Su says, “It developed into a mountain that towered above us.” ‘Everything we planted wilted, and our animals became sick and died.’

People began to suffer as well. Dalahai residents claim that their teeth began to fall out, their hair began to turn white at unusually young ages, and they developed serious skin and respiratory illnesses. Cancer rates skyrocketed as a result of children being born with fragile bones.

Official investigations conducted five years ago in Dalahai village confirmed that the village had extremely high rates of cancer, as well as osteoporosis, skin, and respiratory disorders. The radiation levels in the lake are five times greater than in the surrounding countryside, according to the studies.

These miseries will almost certainly worsen as the wind industry expands. According to a recent MIT research, the wind industry’s growth might increase demand for neodymium by 700 percent over the next 25 years, while demand for dysprosium could rise by 2,600 percent. The more wind turbines that are built in America, the more Chinese people would suffer as a result of China’s policy. Alternatively, every turbine we construct contributes to “a gigantic man-made lake of poison in northern China,” as the Daily Mail put it.

Rare earth minerals, especially neodymium and dysprosium, which are crucial components of the magnets used in modern wind turbines, are in high demand in the wind industry. Developed by GE in 1982, neodymium magnets are available in a variety of shapes and sizes for a variety of applications. Wind turbine generators are one of their most prevalent applications.

The precise amount of rare earth elements in wind turbines is unknown, but the figures are startling. A 2 megawatt (MW) wind turbine comprises around 800 pounds of neodymium and 130 pounds of dysprosium, according to the Bulletin of Atomic Sciences. According to the MIT study, a 2 MW wind turbine comprises around 752 pounds of rare earth materials.

According to the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, mining one tonne of rare earth minerals produces around one tonne of radioactive waste. The United States added a record 13,131 MW of wind generating capacity in 2012. That suggests that rare earths were utilized in wind turbines installed in 2012 in amounts ranging from 4.9 million pounds (according to MIT) to 6.1 million pounds (according to the Bulletin of Atomic Science). It also means that these wind turbines produced between 4.9 million and 6.1 million pounds of radioactive waste.

Each year, the nuclear power industry in the United States produces between 4.4 million and 5 million pounds of spent nuclear fuel. That means the wind business in the United States may have produced more radioactive waste last year than the entire nuclear industry. In this respect, the nuclear sector appears to be doing more with less: nuclear energy accounted for roughly one-fifth of all electricity generated in the United States in 2012, whereas wind contributed for only 3.5 percent.

While nuclear storage is still a hot topic among environmentalists in the United States, few are paying attention to the wind industry’s less efficient and less transparent usage of radioactive material in China via rare earth mineral mining. The nuclear business in the United States employs a variety of safeguards to ensure that spent nuclear fuel is safely stored. The Obama administration cut funding for Yucca Mountain, the country’s sole permanent nuclear waste storage facility approved by federal law, in 2010. Nuclear energy firms have employed specifically built pools at particular reactor sites in the absence of a permanent solution. China, on the other hand, has reduced mining licences and enforced export limitations, but it is just now drafting laws to prevent unlawful mining and minimize pollution. Although America’s nuclear storage system isn’t flawless, it beats the alternative of dumping radioactive waste in hazardous lakes like those near Baotou, China.

“One ton of calcined rare earth ore generates 9,600 to 12,000 cubic meters (339,021 to 423,776 cubic feet) of waste gas containing dust concentrate, hydrofluoric acid, sulfur dioxide, and sulfuric acid, and approximately 75 cubic meters (2,649 cubic feet) of acidic wastewater,” according to the Chinese Society for Rare Earths.

Wind energy isn’t quite as “clean” or “environmentally friendly” as wind advocates would have you believe. The wind industry is reliant on rare earth minerals imported from China, which cause massive environmental damage during their extraction. “There isn’t a single phase of the rare earth mining process that isn’t devastating for the ecosystem,” one environmentalist told the Daily Mail. The fact that most of the destruction is unseen and far-flung does not make it any less harmful.

What are the advantages of using rare-earth metals in wind turbines?

Rare earth elements neodymium, praseodymium, terbium, and dysprosium are commonly found in these magnets. Magnetic strength is increased by neodymium and praseodymium, whereas resistance to demagnetization is improved by dysprosium and terbium, especially at high temperatures.

The chemical element neodymium was discovered in 1885. This element (atomic number 60) has a silvery-white metallic color and belongs to the lanthanide group in the periodic table, which is a subgroup of rare earth elements (atomic numbers 5771) that oxidizes rapidly in air. In emerging technical advances such as wind turbines, electronic hybrid vehicles, and the defense industry, lanthanides play an essential role.

Neodymium does not exist in nature in metallic or mixed forms with other lanthanides, but it has been refined for general use and mined in the United States, Brazil, India, Australia, Sri Lanka, and primarily in China.

In the 1980s, General Motors and Hitachi produced neodymium-iron-boron magnets. Because it produces a strong magnetic force even in small amounts, it is increasingly being used in the production of strong permanent magnets composed of rare earth elements. Hard disc drives, mobile phones, and television video and audio systems all use neodymium magnets in the world of information technology.

Neodymium magnets are also widely employed in magnetic separators, filters, ionizers, onoff switches, and safety and security systems. To more successfully filter out iron powder in oil, grease filter manufacturers use neodymium magnets in metal separators. They are also useful for covering machines, cars with awnings, and the manufacture of magnetic tool belts. They’re also used to make jewelry clips, identity badges, and baby strollers with magnets that attach to carriers.

Because of their capacity to generate a static magnetic field, neodymium magnets are used in medical devices such as magnetic resonance imaging devices to diagnose and treat chronic pain syndrome, arthritis, wound healing, insomnia, headache, and a variety of other ailments. Over the last decade, there has been a rise in their use. These magnets are commonly referred to as “magic magnets” since they are considered to have a curative effect.

NASA utilizes neodymium magnets to keep astronauts’ muscles toned during space trips.

Neodymium magnets have been employed as a motion-generating equipment in orthodontic treatments such as molar distillation and palatal expansion due to their pushpull pressures.

The stimulation of bone formation via osteoblastic differentiation or activation has been documented using a static magnetic field.

Between 1983 and 2007, the amount of neodymium magnets utilized in all of these fields increased from 1 to 60.000 tons. Since 1990, China has dominated the rare earth element mining industry. Because of the low concentration of rare elements, mining them entails a variety of environmental consequences; as a result, many nations have stopped mining rare elements, and practically all countries rely on imports from China.

What is the strength of neodymium magnets?

These aren’t your typical fridge magnets! Neodymium magnets are the strongest permanent magnets available, and you probably use them every day, even if you’ve never heard of them. They’re also known as NdFeB magnets or Neo magnets, and despite their strength, they’re also lightweight, which is why they’re used in so many different applications. It’s hard to realize, but many of the technological advancements of the last few decades would not have been possible without this type of rare earth magnet!

How Strong Are Neodymium Magnets?

Very powerful. They’ll astound you! A 2-gram (0.07 ounce) neodymium magnet with a diameter of 8 millimeters (0.315 inches) and a length of 5 millimeters (0.197 inches) creates almost 1700 grams of force (3.75 pounds). They’re so powerful that they’ve taken the place of other magnets in a variety of applications. Because neodymium magnets are over 10 times stronger than ceramic magnets, you may use a lot smaller neodymium magnet to achieve the same (or more!) gripping force. Be careful: neodymium magnets are so powerful that even small ones can harm you. Larger neos have been known to break bones. Use caution when handling! Using our magnet calculator tools, you may learn more about the strength of specific magnets in gauss or pounds of holding force.

What Are Neodymium Magnets Made Of?

An alloy of neodymium, iron, and boron is used to make neodymium magnets. The specific composition varies based on the required strength and the purpose of the magnet. Sintered and bonded neodymium magnets are the two most common manufacturing methods.

Sintered neodymium magnets are created by melting the alloy components together in a furnace, then casting the mixture into molds and cooling it to form ingots, which are then ground into a fine powder and pressed into molds. Powder molds are sintered to create dense blocks. (Sintering is the process of compacting and producing a solid mass of material without melting it to the point of liquefaction using heat or pressure.) The material is then magnetized after being cut into its final shape, coated or plated, and coated or plated.

Bonded neodymium magnets are made up of a polymer binder and a neodymium alloy powder.

To make more complicated forms and magnetization powders than are generally obtainable in sintered magnets, the components are pressed or extruded.

What Are Neodymium Magnets Used For?

Since their creation in the early 1980s, these incredibly powerful magnets have found applications in a wide range of industries. If you’re viewing this on a computer, you’re currently using a neodymium magnet. The following are some examples of applications:

Hard drives (HDD) Tracks and sectors on a hard disk contain magnetic cells, which are magnetized when data is written to the drive.

Microphones, headphones, and loudspeakers Permanent magnets and current-carrying coils turn electricity into mechanical energy, which changes the pressure of the surrounding air to produce sound.

Door catches – Neodymium magnetic catches are commonly used in commercial and residential structures.

Magnetic treatment jewelry is frequently created with neodymium magnets, which are also found in bracelet and necklace clasps.

Anti-lock brake sensors If your vehicle has anti-lock brakes, the sensors use neodymium magnets wrapped inside copper coils.

Where does neodymium come from?

Neodymium is primarily mined in monazite and bastnaesite mineral occurrences as part of a conglomerate with other rare earth elements. Historically, most of the world’s rare earth minerals were produced by a single mine in California, but China has become the dominant source since the early 1990s.

China now supplies 70% of the world’s REEs, with new mines in Australia and a reactivated mine in the United States also contributing. In China, rare earth mining and processing has wreaked havoc on the ecosystem.

In wind turbines, what rare earths are used?

The REEs neodymium and dysprosium, as well as minor amounts of praseodymium, are the most regularly used in the wind industry.

The powerful permanent magnets utilized in everything from smartphones, medical equipment, electric vehicles, and robotics to the permanent-magnet synchronous generators (PMSGs) used in some wind turbines are made up of these three alloys.

Neodymium magnets, which are primarily made up of neodymium, iron, and boron (see below), are the strongest permanent magnets on the market and provide very efficient electricity generation.

As a result, PMSGs enable a lighter and more compact turbine design, which is especially advantageous at low wind-speed sites and offshore, where space is limited.

PMSGs can be used in both geared and direct-drive drivetrains, however the latter has a higher concentration of REEs (see Heavy metal PMG use and constituents).

With the noteworthy exception of Goldwind, manufacturers are moving away from supplying direct-drive PMSGs onshore, owing in part to the 2011 price spike. Offshore, however, the technology’s advantages in compactness, efficiency, and low maintenance costs remain enticing.

Offshore pioneer Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy (SGRE) employs direct-drive PMSGs in all of its offshore turbines, as does GE in its Haliade 6MW turbine and, most likely, its upcoming 12MW machine. The V164 platform from MHI Vestas has a medium-speed geared PMSG with lower REE content.

However, when looking at the market as a whole, the majority of turbines do not currently use PMSGs. Direct-drive machines with electrically excited synchronous generators (EESG), such as those used by Enercon, and geared turbines with doubly-fed induction generators are the most frequent alternatives (DFIG).

However, as the market transitions to increased deployment offshore and at low-wind-speed sites onshore, as well as the drive toward ever higher-rated turbines, this could change.

In 2015, the EU’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) discovered that PMSGs were deployed in 23% of turbines. According to the report, market penetration might reach 41% in 2020 and 72% in 2030.

Market concerns

This could be significant in a world where demand for REEs is rapidly increasing and China has a near-monopoly on production of both REEs and permanent magnets, raising concerns about single-market dependence and the danger of price volatility, as the 2011 price surge demonstrated.

The crisis was caused by a trade dispute between China and Japan, when China set strict export limitations on REEs.

The industry was forced to explore for alternatives, both in terms of supply sources and technology options, as prices increased.

Prices fell and stabilized in 2015 as China removed its export limitations, before plummeting again in late 2016. Fears of shortages and price spikes dissipated over time.

However, some analysts are now raising worries about rising global demand for REEs, as well as the possible impact of a tariff and trade war between China and the United States on the business. According to Bloomberg, the price of neodymium increased by more than 80% in 2017.

Demand for neodymium and praseodymium is expected to treble in the next seven to eight years, according to Ryan Castilloux, managing director of consultancy Adamas Intelligence, posing “huge issues for the supply side of the sector.”

Peak Resources, which is developing the Ngualla rare-earth deposit in Tanzania, predicts that by 2025, there will be a serious supply constraint of the two primary REEs.

According to the company’s 2018 white paper, this will be largely due to structural reforms in China that will constrain production, as well as a quick uptake of electric vehicles and other low-carbon technology.

One of these technologies is the rapidly growing wind power industry. Between 2015 and 2025, Lynas, which mines REEs in Australia, expects the wind sector will account for about 30% of worldwide increase in permanent magnet demand.

According to Shashi Barla, senior analyst at Wood McKenzie Power & Renewables, “most of this will come from increased deployment of direct-drive turbines offshore,” but “anticipated growth in China will also play a key part” (formerly Make Consulting).

According to Barla, the offshore and Chinese wind sectors accounted for more than 65 percent of REE demand in 2017, and this figure is expected to rise to more than 80 percent by 2023.

When demand rises, the natural answer is to increase supply. “Future growth is dependent on China expanding production,” Castilloux argues, citing China’s dominant position.

On the one hand, the government has been shutting down unauthorized mines, integrating the business, and tightening environmental rules (see Moral dilemma), all of which will limit supplies.

On the other hand, it is taking steps to better align supply and demand, such as imposing six-monthly output caps and reducing export duties and limitations.

“In China, the price of rare earths has become increasingly rationalized in a fair range,” says Cao Zhigang, Goldwind executive vice president.

Other than Australia, Lynas was the only big neodymium and praseodymium manufacturer to survive the price drop after 2011.

Rare-earth concentrates are shipped from the company’s Mount Weld mine in Australia to its processing plant in Malaysia, which sells REEs to a number of European OEMs.

According to Andrew Arnold, Lynas’ chief legal officer, the company is presently executing a project to expand output by 35 percent over the initial plan.

After previous owner Molycorp went bankrupt in 2015, MP Materials reactivated the Mountain Pass mine in California in late 2017.

The only rare-earth mine in the United States has begun commercial production of concentrates, which it will send to China for separation.

According to CEO Colin Nexhip, the company wants to boost output and isolate the REEs at Mountain Pass “in the near future.”

“We want to be a vital element of a more diverse, reliable, and environmentally friendly global magnetic materials supply chain,” he says.

Peak Resources’ Ngualla mine in Tanzania, which has a refining facility in the UK, is one of the most advanced of the numerous other projects in construction.

The startup plans to finish permission this year, raise capital in 2019, and open for business in 2023.

“A factory takes at least three to five years to get up and operating,” says Michael Prassas, the company’s general manager for marketing and sales. He emphasizes that there are no short cuts when it comes to bringing new capacity into production to balance supply constraints.

It’s also worth noting that rare earths are discovered in a bundle, with the less valuable minerals making up the majority of the mix.

This creates a technical difficulty of mining proportionally bigger amounts of all REEs to raise neodymium, praseodymium, and dysprosium output, yet the price of the most in-demand REEs must cover the production expenses of the others, affecting the price of permanent magnets.

Another way to deal with rising costs is to consume less. Turbine makers began enhancing material efficiency in the aftermath of 2011, in addition to shifting away from supplying PSMGs onshore.

The main goal has been to lower the amount of dysprosium in the system. The metal, which allows permanent magnets to operate at high temperatures, is used in small amounts but is much more expensive than neodymium.

SGRE, for example, claims to have worked with its suppliers to lower the level of dysprosium in its products to “much below 1%.” Improvements were made not only to the magnet’s composition, but also to the cooling systems of the generators.

Goldwind’s direct-drive PMSG turbines have also been upgraded. “Some permanent magnets used in Goldwind wind turbines now contain no dysprosium, while others have less than 1%,” says Cao.

High-temperature superconductor (HTS) generators are also in development, and they require relatively little REEs.

According to Jrgen Kellers, managing partner of engineering firm ECO5, the HTS being developed under the EU-funded EcoSwing research project needs “far less than 1kg of REEs” primarily Yttrium per kilowatt. This autumn, the world’s first superconducting generator was put in a Danish Envision turbine (below).

Others want to get rid of rare earths completely. GreenSpur Renewables, based in the United Kingdom, is working on a multi-megawatt direct-drive generator that uses cheap and abundant ferrite magnets.

According to Alex Freeman, the company’s operations director, these magnets have roughly one-third the strength of neodymium-iron-boron magnets, but because of GreenSpur’s unique axial design, the overall weight of the generator is about the same.