By Anders Lorenzen
Renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar continue to grow. And thereby they change the energy system to one that is less reliant on hydrocarbons. But another problem has presented itself. These technologies are very reliant on rare earth minerals, many of which are mined in conflict areas and countries such as China, where workers rights are often overlooked.
Now Green Spur, a UK company, has developed a solution to this, as their vertical axe wind turbine design is built without the use of rare earth minerals. The company has just received its first US order, from Wind Harvest international. This is for its 70kW vertical turbine generator, described as a rare-earth mineral-free permanent magnet direct drive generator. The turbine`s unique ferrite-based generator technology eliminates the need for high cost and supply-constrained rare-earth magnets.
About its product and first US sale Andrew Hine, the company’s Commercial Director said: “ We have been working with UK Government and wider supply chain support to develop a generator technology that can remove rare-earth risk. Wind Harvest has recognised a strategic advantage of eliminating this risk. In recent months, we have optimised a 70kW generator design specifically for Wind Harvest’s H-type turbines and are pleased with the subsequent order that we announce today.”
The plight of rare-earth minerals
Apart from serious concerns around human rights connected with extracting rare-earth minerals, an international shortage of rare-earth magnets is looming. This is because China (which accounts for 70% of global supply) uses quotas to preserve its own strategic supplies. The price of rare-earth magnets – which are a key component in most wind turbine generators and electric vehicles – has doubled over the last year. An already tight market for rare-earth magnet production has been further hampered by China’s recent power shortages while surging commodity prices have increased generator material costs yet further.
As the transition away from fossil fuels speeds up, the demand for clean energy technologies which have eliminated rare-earth minerals is only going to become greater.