Rare earths not required in renewables or batteries

While rare earths are required in electronics – they are not required in our bulk solar, wind, and battery markets. This means we can recycle e-waste to siphon rare earths back into electronics, rather than our enormous energy infrastructure.

On this page:-

  • Solar
  • Wind
  • LFP Batteries
  • Sodium Batteries
  • But what if we start to ‘run out’ of even these more common metals?

Professor Simon Michaux argued that we cannot build renewables out because there are not enough rare earths and metals. This is simply not true – and I don’t know why I see people quoting his paper. On this page I aim to collect brands that use plainer and vastly more abundant metals instead.


Normal crystalline solar cells make up 95% of the solar market. (Dark and light blue on the left.)

They do not require rare metals or earths. The Monocrystalline silicon Wiki explains:-

“Mono-Si can be prepared as an intrinsic semiconductor that consists only of exceedingly pure silicon, or it can be doped by the addition of other elements such as boron or phosphorus to make p-type or n-type silicon.[1] Due to its semiconducting properties, single-crystal silicon is perhaps the most important technological material of the last few decades—the “silicon era”,[2] because its availability at an affordable cost has been essential for the development of the electronic devices on which the present-day electronics and IT revolution is based.”

The Polycrystalline Silicon wiki explains: “The photovoltaic industry also produces upgraded metallurgical-grade silicon (UMG-Si), using metallurgical instead of chemical purification processes.[1] When produced for the electronics industry, polysilicon contains impurity levels of less than one part per billion (ppb), while polycrystalline solar grade silicon (SoG-Si) is generally less pure. A few companies from China, Germany, Japan, Korea and the United States, such as GCL-PolyWacker ChemieOCI, and Hemlock Semiconductor, as well as the Norwegian headquartered REC, accounted for most of the worldwide production of about 230,000 tonnes in 2013.”

It seems that mainly thin-film cells require require Gallium, Tellurium, Cadmium and Indium.

Gallium – replace with regular boron!

A solar cell is made of two types of semiconductors, called p-type and n-type silicon. The p-type silicon is produced by addingatoms—such as boron or gallium—that have one less electron in their outer energy level than does silicon.  Because boron has one less electron than is required to form the bonds with the surrounding silicon atoms, an electron vacancy or “hole” is created.
ACS – 2014

Tellurium is just another option. If it runs out, we’ll go back to Poly-Si above.

Amongst the rarest of the stable elements on the periodic table and an important ingredient in the emerging thin-film solar panel sector, tellurium embodies what it means to be a critical metalloid – an element that possesses the properties of both a metal and non-metal…
…While the solar market continues to be dominated by traditional silicon solar panels, CdTe panels are becoming increasingly popular. This is due to these thin-film panels’ ability to absorb sunlight close to the optimal wavelength for converting to electricity, and they are relatively inexpensive to make.
Mining News North – September 2021

Cadmium telluride is a competitor to normal silicon – but is only in 5% of solar panels.

Indium not needed in normal crystalline panels but is part of the thin-film variety. They’re working on thin-film without indium. (February 2021)
The EU says even CIGS cells with indium are not a problem as they’re getting so efficient. ”The researchers said the indium content per gigawatt of modules, currently about 15 tons, can be reduced to several hundred kilograms, or even lower.” (August 2021)

Silver can be replaced by copper. Global Energy prize – September 2022.
Bezinga – May 2022.
Electronics for U – September 2022
Pv-Magazine – September 2022

Selenium is a historical footnote – discovered to be photoelectric in 1874 but abandoned by 1949. Silicon emerged as the winner.


There are wind turbines that do not use rare earths which mainly seem to be in their permanent magnet. These are used mainly in the offshore wind market and only make up about 23% of turbines (in 2015 at least.) So 76% of wind turbines simply don’t use the neodymium and dysprosium, and small amounts of praseodymium. This article is from 2012 years old so renewables sceptics like Michaux really should know about this. However, even offshore wind companies are developing permanent magnets that do not use rare earths (July 2022).

“In the four years since that Bulletin article, one key substitution it mentions — iron-nitride super magnets using no rare earths but with comparable or potentially greater performance — entered the market. But even without that magnet innovation, everything that permanent-magnet motors and generators do can also be done as well or better using two other innovations that require no rare earth minerals: control software and power electronics made of silicon, the most abundant solid element on Earth.”

Greenbiz: Amory Lovins – 2022

LFP Batteries – Lithium Iron Phosphate

(The F = Ferrous, elemental letter for Iron).

“Did you know that LiFePO4 batteries use no rare earths or toxic metals? They utilize commonly available materials including copper, iron and graphite. In honor of Earth Day, in this week’s Tech Tuesday we’re sharing a few reasons why lithium iron phosphate batteries are better for the environment.”
Relion battery – April 2020

As the Wiki says: “Because of their lower cost, high safety, low toxicity, long cycle life and other factors, LFP batteries are finding a number of roles in vehicle use, utility-scale stationary applications, and backup power. LFP batteries are cobalt-free.

15 years ago, the first hybrid vehicles, notably the Toyota Prius and the Honda, were equipped with NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) batteries whose negative electrode (anode) was made of a lanthanum-pentanickel alloy (LaNi5). These batteries in the first generation of hybrid vehicles contained about ten kilos of lanthanum, which is a rare earth. However, today this battery technology has been replaced by the family of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries with much higher performance. While some Toyota hybrids sold in Europe are still equipped with NiMH batteries, the vast majority of hybrid and electric vehicles today are equipped with Li-ion batteries… which do not contain rare earths.
Sneci – June 2022

Sodium batteries

Sodium-ion batteries are now a commercial product. (See wiki.) They’re larger and heavier than lithium – so are mainly for grid storage. They’re about a third cheaper than lithium-ion, and don’t need lithium, cobalt, copper or nickel! Yes – they mainly use sea-salt! Sodium is abundant at 34 kg per cubic metre of seawater. The other metal they use is aluminium which is 1000 times more abundant than copper.

Sodium batteries are not yet energy dense enough for EV’s – but watch the Fully Charged show below as they expect to get there! But right now they are ideal for grid scale batteries that can be clunky and chunky. Also, we don’t need days of storage from grid-batteries but mere minutes. Our main grid storage should be pumped hydro – the cheapest grid-scale storage there is. But a battery can kick in the second it is needed – and give pumped hydro the few minutes it might need to wind up to top speed.

Watch Fully Charged on table salt in cars!

But what if we start to ‘run out’ of even these more common metals?

For that – I’ll refer you back to my Metals page