Key components to high-tech gadgets include rare earth metals. This is a group of seventeen metals, not all of which are actually very rare. The metals include scandium, yttrium and fifteen elements on the periodic table referred to as lanthanides. While such information is important for those in the business, specifics are not necessary. What it comes down to is they are important to commerce globally as easily perceived by how ubiquitous high-tech gadgets are in the world today. Cell phones, flat-screen televisions, camera lenses, renewable energy devices and hybrid cars are just a few items which include rare earth metals.
Currently China is the largest producer of rare earth metals in the world. Approximately ninety-five percent of the world’s share of rare earth metals are attained from China. China announced in recent months their intention to place a production cap on their rare earth metal supply and potential reduction of exports, an announcement which sent many around the globe into a panic. Such changes could have a drastic impact on the production of high-tech gadgets and subsequently prices around the world.
However, increasing the use of commonly found metals on the planet is a way to reduce the dependence upon China and others for rare earth metals. Reducing the use of rare earth metals would also lower the cost of many devices as the cost of the rare earth metals drives the cost of many devices. Solar energy is not immune to the use of rare earth metals, in fact they are currently highly required to produce photovoltaic panels. However, scientists recently indicated that solar devices using common earth metals is becoming technologically possible.
Scientists at the recent meeting in Philadelphia of the American Chemical Society indicated that technology for solar shingles using common earth metals was becoming reality. Solar shingles are currently available using rare earth metals indium and gallium, however, new shingles may be able to be produced using copper and zinc, metals which are abundant and cheap relatively.
Roofs around the country of the U.S. offer significant real estate for solar energy generation. Estimates of just residential rooftop square footage indicates that there is 69 billion square feet of available space for solar shingles, with additional area available on commercial buildings. Such a large area would be able to generate nearly fifty percent of all of the energy needs of the U.S. through just solar shingles.
In addition, the use of common earth metals rather than rare earth metals will drive down the cost of solar significantly. Experts predict that the use of common earth metals, including copper and zinc, would reduce the cost of solar to be competitive with energy attained through coal within a short period of time.