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China holds the key to Euro wind power PDF Print E-mail
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Next month EU officials are due to sign a memo of understanding to develop a €30 billion offshore wind power grid in the North and Baltic seas.But will China throw a spanner in the works.???

According to Marie-Pierre Fauconnier, director-general for energy in Belgium, which holds the EU presidency, the grid is ‘essential to meet Europe’s future energy needs’. The EU wants 20 percent of Europe’s electricity to be supplied by wind power by 2020, and a whacking 50 percent by 2050.

With the figure currently just a measly 5 percent, there’s a lot of turbine-building to be done. The UK is committed to building offshore wind farms capable of  producing up to 32 gigawatts of energy in the next ten years. But wind generators need massively powerful magnets, made with a “rare earth” called neodymium.

Despite its designation, it’s not actually that rare – it is commonly used as a dye for glass. But virtually all the world’s neodymium is currently produced in China. And China has recently announced plans to increase its own wind-generating capacity to an enormous 330GW, which will require about 59,000 tons of the stuff – two or three times the entire global annual supply.

New mines can take ten years to build. China has already shown it is willing to cut off the supply of rare elements – it recently warned that it was going to stop exporting indium, a vital component of flat screen panels for televisions and computer monitors, altogether.

If it does the same with neodymium, in which it has a near-monopoly on production, many of Europe’s high-blown wind power commitments may turn out to be so much hot air.

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