Precious metals renewable energy: what are they and where are
The research laboratories worldwide are studying the first solutions to an emerging problem: some metals used in the renewable energy, are going to become even more rare. Among others, indium, gallium, platinum, tantalum. To raise the issue is a report of the European Union.
By 2030 the demand for items almost impossible to increase by three times. With an impact on some technologies for the use of renewable energy, identified in the study of the EU.
But it is precisely the need to develop alternatives to fuel the research and development of innovative solutions. As the recycling industry and university laboratories in Europe. Otherwise, according to the report, you will need to explore in depth the coast terrestrial to marine drilling now not generally exceed 200 meters below the seabed, and the mine record comes four kilometers from the surface.
But what are the consequences in the coming years the shortage? Indium and gallium are used for the production of photovoltaic "thin film": it is built on films nanometric dimensions (ie, in a scale of a billionth of a meter) that allow it to absorb a range of wavelengths greater than the traditional silicon solar cells. But it is almost exclusively for export to China. "There is a bottleneck at the origin: the problem is related to security of supply, rather than the availability. But given the prices of silicon now, the explosion of thin-film technologies will be more difficult, "says Nicola Baggio, consultant Aper, the Association for Renewable Energy. In particular, in the case of the semiconductor also employed in the manufacture of microchips does not pose the problem of scarcity. But in Italy the chain is incomplete just upstream: there are only two plants for the production of "polysilicon," in Merano and Novara, both managed by the U.S. giant MEMC.
The economic crisis has done for the moment set aside three projects in Italy of large structures for the "refining" of silicon, provided by SILFAB, Estelux and Italsilicon: together they brought in Italian companies 9500 tons of raw materials for the manufacture of solar cells and modules . For 2015 it is expected that the volume will start to grow for the disposal of old solar panels, from an expected life of 25 years. Bet this threshold Pv Cycle, a consortium that wants to acquire the plant no longer efficient and reuse glass, aluminum and semiconductors. For now, the members are eighty.
And the platinum? It is a problem in the industry heard of catalysis, especially for fuel cells ("fuel cell") fueled by liquid hydrogen. But short will not be significant: companies seeking to reduce or replace the platinum, "notes Paul Fracas, CEO and member of the Italian Association of Genport hydrogen and fuel cells (H 2). Indeed, a company in Tuscany, Acta Energy, has developed fuel cells that do not use "noble metals", just as the platinum is listed on Aim (for small businesses) of the London Stock Exchange and has just launched a tender powered by fuel cell. Meanwhile in Germany, companies are active for the recycling of platinum, often linked with multinationals close in this way the cycle of the supply chain. To hold the largest estimated reserves of rare metal used for catalytic converters is Russia.
That of tantalum is another story. It is obtained from the subsoil of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Brazil. It is a key component for the production of a class of capacitors, used in the electronics industry. But the computer hardware industry for production for mass markets has shifted mainly in the Far East. With some exceptions in Italy, such as the Bologna group Arcotronics. But scientific research promises to change the cards on the table right now some microcondensatori constructed in the laboratory can replace conventional batteries in small electronic devices, as demonstrated by the research of the Institute of Nanotechnology Drexel published in the weekly magazine Science.
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