The future of wind energy development in the United States may rest on the availability of a rare earth element that conveniently is found in Idaho.
The magnets in the giant wind turbine powered electrical generators are made with an alloy that uses neodymium, a rare metal that is most produced in China reports Jack Lifton a strategic metals expert .
The Chinese are building wind turbines as fast as they can and the government is considering limiting exports of the mineral. If the supply were cut off wind turbine manufacturing would come to a halt in 60 days, said Jim Sims, President of the Western Business Roundtable.
So where can we go?
One of the places is where Meriwether Lewis first looked into the Pacific Basin and Idaho, Lemhi Pass. There geologists have found a reserve of neodyminum and other rare earth minerals.
The deposit is owned by Thorium Energy, Inc.of Salt Lake City. As you would expect there is a catch. The rare earths occur with the slightly radioactive mineral thorium, considered as an alternative fuel to uranium for nuclear reactors.
I would suspect that mining the material in the Lemhi Pass area will not be easy for a number of good reasons. The first is the Lemhi River is among the most productive salmon producing tributaries of the Salmon River.
And who wants a mine next to a national historic shrine?
The neodyminum issue once against demonstrates the economic concept I first learned from Dr. Fritz Tan in environmental economics in college: There ain’t no such thing as free lunch.
Even though wind power may be better for the environment than coal, it has its own drawbacks and unique requirements that have tradeoffs.
Solar power has its own rare earth and once again Idaho is in the middle of the story.
The mineral is indium and a team of chemists from the Idaho National Laboratory and Idaho State University are using it to improve solar cell technology. They have have invented a way to manufacture highly precise, uniform nanoparticles, matter tens of thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair, to adhere a film of copper indium sulfide atop a band of silicon to increases a cell's photon-catching power.
But indium supplies also are not secured. The Current known reserves would run out by 2017 reports New Scientist Magazine.
So as we look to new energy breakthroughs to replace fossil fuels it appears clear that miners and mining exploration are going to be a part of this revolution as much as many environmentalists would prefer it to go away.