Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Impact of the establishment of US offshore wind power on neodymium flows


Wind power is often posed as a greenhouse gas emission mitigation option, yet from a global perspective, the constrained supplies of rare-earth metals required for large-scale offshore wind turbines seem increasingly likely to provide limits to offshore wind power and other rare-earth-metal applications in the coming years. A 2015 US Department of Energy study maps an ambitious roadmap for offshore wind power to be capable of meeting substantial US electric-generating capacity by 2050. Our study addresses the neodymium material requirements that would be needed. We find that regional differences in deployment schedules will result in complex patterns of new capacity additions occurring concomitantly with turbine retirements and replacement needs. These demands would total over 15.5 Gg (15.5 kt) of neodymium by 2050, of which 20% could potentially be avoided by circular usage from decommissioned turbines but only if recycling technologies are developed or, better still, magnets are designed for reuse. Because neodymium is deemed to be a ‘critical material’, these perspectives are vital information for the formation of policy related to wind-energy provisioning, to domestic production, and to the importation of the rare-earth elements that would be required.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Offshore generating capacity and corresponding neodymium flows.
Fig. 2: Neodymium expansion and replacement demands and EOL outflows corresponding to the dynamics of installed capacity over time in six regions.

Data availability

The data sources, variables, and model equations supporting the findings of this study are available within the paper and its Supplementary Information file. Additional questions about the data supporting the findings of this study can be directed to the corresponding authors.


  1. 1.

    Lopez, A., Roberts, B., Heimiller, D., Blair, N. & Porro, G. U.S. Renewable Energy Technical Potentials: A GIS-Based Analysis (National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2012).

  2. 2.

    US Energy Information Administration Electric Power Annual 2016 (US Department of Energy, 2017).

  3. 3.

    Mills, A. D. et al. Estimating the value of offshore wind along the United States’ eastern coast. Environ. Res. Lett. 13, aada62 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Block Island Wind Farm (Deepwater Wind, 2018);

  5. 5.

    2018 Q2 Market Report (American Wind Energy Association, 2018).

  6. 6.

    Beiter, P., Musial, W., Kilcher, L., Maness, M. & Smith, A. An Assessment of the Economic Potential of Offshore Wind in the United States from 2015 to 2030 (National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2017).

  7. 7.

    Wind Vision: A New Era for Wind Power in the United States (US Department of Energy, 2015).

  8. 8.

    National Offshore Wind Strategy (US Department of Energy, 2016).

  9. 9.

    McLellan, B. C., Corder, G. D., Golev, A. & Ali, S. H. Sustainability of the rare earths industry. Procedia Environ. Sci. 20, 280–287 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Zimmermann, T., Rehberger, M. & Gößling-Reisemann, S. Material flows resulting from large scale deployment of wind energy in Germany. Resources 2, 303–334 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Hoenderdaal, S., Tercero Espinoza, L., Marscheider-Weidemann, F. & Graus, W. Can a dysprosium shortage threaten green energy technologies? Energy 49, 344–355 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Habib, K. & Wenzel, H. Exploring rare earths supply constraints for the emerging clean energy technologies and the role of recycling. J. Clean. Prod. 84, 348–359 (2014).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Nassar, N. T., Wilburn, D. R. & Goonan, T. G. Byproduct metal requirements for U.S. wind and solar photovoltaic electricity generation up to the year 2040 under various Clean Power Plan scenarios. Appl. Energy 183, 1209–1226 (2016).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Imholte, D. D. et al. An assessment of U.S. rare earth availability for supporting U.S. wind energy growth targets. Energy Policy 113, 294–305 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Luengo, M. M. & Kolios, A. Failure mode identification and end of life scenarios of offshore wind turbines: a review. Energies 8, 8339–8354 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Critical Materials Strategy (US Department of Energy, 2010).

  17. 17.

    Critical Materials Strategy (US Department of Energy, 2011).

  18. 18.

    Eggert, R. G. Minerals go critical. Nat. Chem. 3, 688–691 (2011).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Ali, S. H. Social and environmental impact of the rare earth industries. Resources 3, 123–134 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Nansai, K. et al. Global flows of critical metals necessary for low-carbon technologies: the case of neodymium, cobalt, and platinum. Environ. Sci. Technol. 48, 1391–1400 (2014).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Nansai, K. et al. The role of primary processing in the supply risks of critical metals. Econ. Syst. Res. 29, 335–356 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    The temple of turbine: one of these wind turbines can power 5,000 homes. General Electric (23 May 2016).

  23. 23.

    Wilburn, D. R. Wind Energy in the United States and Materials Required for the Land-based Wind Turbine Industry from 2010 Through 2030 (US Geological Survey, 2011).

  24. 24.

    Elshkaki, A. & Graedel, T. E. Dysprosium, the balance problem, and wind power technology. Appl. Energy 136, 548–559 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Watari, T., McLellan, C. B., Ogata, S. & Tezuka, T. Analysis of potential for critical metal resource constraints in the International Energy Agency’s long-term low-carbon energy scenarios. Minerals 8, 156 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    America’s wind energy future looks seaward. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (30 October 2017).

  27. 27.

    Davidson, R. AWEA 2018: offshore hubs to spring up Atlantic coast. Wind Power Offshore (9 May 2018).

  28. 28.

    Reyna, J. L. & Chester, M. V. The growth of urban building stock. J. Industr. Ecol. 19, 524–537 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Müller, D. B. et al. Carbon emissions of infrastructure development. Environ. Sci. Technol. 47, 11739–11746 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Cai, W., Wan, L., Jiang, Y., Wang, C. & Lin, L. Short-lived buildings in China: impacts on water, energy and carbon emissions. Environ. Sci. Technol. 49, 13921–13928 (2015).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Brattebø, H., Bergsdal, H., Sandberg, N. H., Hammervold, J. & Müller, D. B. Exploring built environment stock metabolism and sustainability by systems analysis approaches. Build. Res. Inf. 37, 569–582 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Musial, W. et al. 2016 Offshore Wind Technologies Market Report (Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, US Department of Energy, 2017).

  33. 33.

    Annual Energy Outlook 2018 (US Energy Information Administration, 2018).

  34. 34.

    Fishman, T., Myers, R. J. & Rios, O. & Graedel, T. E. Implications of emerging vehicle technologies on rare earth supply and demand in the United States. Resources 7, 9 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Bleiwas, D. I. & Gambogi, J. Preliminary Estimates of the Quantities of Rare-Earth Elements Contained in Selected Products and in Imports of Semimanufactured Products to the United States, 2010 (US Geological Survey, 2013).

  36. 36.

    Yang, Y. et al. REE recovery from end-of-life NdFeB permanent magnet scrap: a critical review. J. Sust. Metall. 3, 122–149 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Desai, P. Tesla’s electric motor shift to spur demand for rare earth neodymium. Reuters (12 March 2018).

  38. 38.

    Busch, J., Steinberger, J. K., Dawson, D. A., Purnell, P. & Roelich, K. Managing critical materials with a technology-specific stocks and flows model. Environ. Sci. Technol. 48, 1298–1305 (2014).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Yano, J., Muroi, T. & Sakai, S. Rare earth element recovery potentials from end-of-life hybrid electric vehicle components in 2010–2030. J. Mater. Cycles Waste Manage. 18, 655–664 (2016).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Jin, H. et al. Life cycle assessment of neodymium-iron-boron magnet-to-magnet recycling for electric vehicle motors. Environ. Sci. Technol. 52, 3796–3802 (2018).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    UNEP Recycling Rates of Metals—A Status Report (United Nations, 2011).

  42. 42.

    Smith Stegen, K. Heavy rare earths, permanent magnets, and renewable energies: an imminent crisis. Energy Policy 79, 1–8 (2015).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Sprecher, B., Kleijn, R. & Kramer, G. J. Recycling potential of neodymium: the case of computer hard disk drives. Environ. Sci. Technol. 48, 9506–9513 (2014).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Alonso, E. et al. Evaluating rare earth element availability: a case with revolutionary demand from clean technologies. Environ. Sci. Technol. 46, 3406–3414 (2012).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Nguyen, R. T., Diaz, L. A., Imholte, D. D. & Lister, T. E. Economic assessment for recycling critical metals from hard disk drives using a comprehensive recovery process. JOM 69, 1546–1552 (2017).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  46. 46.

    Jowitt, S. M., Werner, T. T., Weng, Z. & Mudd, G. M. Recycling of the rare earth elements. Curr. Opin. Green Sustain. Chem. 13, 1–7 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    Weng, Z., Jowitt, S. M., Mudd, G. M. & Haque, N. A detailed assessment of global rare earth element resources: opportunities and challenges. Econ. Geol. 110, 1925–1952 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    Van Gosen, B. S., Verplanck, P. L., Seal, R. R. II, Long, K. R. & Gambogi, J. Rare-Earth Elements (US Geological Survey, 2017).

  49. 49.

    Wiedenhofer, D., Steinberger, J. K., Eisenmenger, N. & Haas, W. Maintenance and expansion: modeling material stocks and flows for residential buildings and transportation networks in the EU25. J. Ind. Ecol. 19, 538–551 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. 50.

    Miatto, A., Schandl, H., Wiedenhofer, D., Krausmann, F. & Tanikawa, H. Modeling material flows and stocks of the road network in the United States 1905–2015. Resour. Conserv. Recycl. 127, 168–178 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. 51.

    Habib, K. & Wenzel, H. Reviewing resource criticality assessment from a dynamic and technology specific perspective—using the case of direct-drive wind turbines. J. Clean. Prod. 112, 3852–3863 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. 52.

    Constantinides, S. The demand for rare earth materials in permanent magnets. In 51st Annual Conference of Metallurgists 7546 (Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum, 2012);

  53. 53.

    Brunner, P. H. & Rechberger, H. Handbook of Material Flow Analysis 2nd edn (CRC, 2017).

  54. 54.

    Müller, D. B. Stock dynamics for forecasting material flows—case study for housing in The Netherlands. Ecol. Econ. 59, 142–156 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. 55.

    Wind Vision Study Scenario Viewer (Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Department of Energy, 2017);

  56. 56.

    Müller, E., Hilty, L. M., Widmer, R., Schluep, M. & Faulstich, M. Modeling metal stocks and flows: a review of dynamic material flow analysis methods. Environ. Sci. Technol. 48, 2102–2113 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. 57.

    Pavel, C. C. et al. Substitution strategies for reducing the use of rare earths in wind turbines. Resour. Policy 52, 349–357 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. 58.

    Smith, B. J. & Eggert, R. G. Costs, substitution, and material use: the case of rare earth magnets. Environ. Sci. Technol. 52, 3803–3811 (2018).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  59. 59.

    Pinar Pérez, J. M., García Márquez, F. P., Tobias, A. & Papaelias, M. Wind turbine reliability analysis. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 23, 463–472 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This work was supported by the Critical Materials Institute, an Energy Innovation Hub funded by the US Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Advanced Manufacturing Office.

Author information




T.E.G. and T.F. conceptualized the research and analysed the results. T.F. designed, coded and ran the models, and wrote the manuscript. T.E.G. supervised the project and edited the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Tomer Fishman.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Tables 1–11, Supplementary Figures 1–20, Supplementary References 1–11

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Fishman, T., Graedel, T.E. Impact of the establishment of US offshore wind power on neodymium flows. Nat Sustain 2, 332–338 (2019).

Download citation

Further reading


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing