The last ten years, wind power production in the US has tripled, becoming the largest source of renewable energy in the country. There are more than 56,800 wind turbines in 41 states and territories, providing more than 6% of the nation’s electricity.

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While most of that production is happening on land, the US Department of Energy (DOE) has set out an ambitious plan to expand the US’s wind sector into offshore waters. However, a new Yale study found that implementation will not be as simple, or as green, as it may seem.

Writing in the journal Nature Sustainability, Tomer Fishman, a former post-doctoral associate at Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) and current lecturer at the IDC Herzliya in Israel, and Thomas Graedel, a professor emeritus at F&ES, challenged the DOE’s plan, focus on the challenge of supplying the necessary rare-earth metals to construct these offshore wind turbines and the environmental, economic, and geopolitical issues at play.

This kind of turbines are enormous and they require powerful magnets that use the element neodymium. They also require huge amounts of it, as about 2,000 pounds is needed to produce each magnet.

The DOE plan also does not take the availability of neodymium into consideration, Mr. Fishman said. The US has mined neodymium in the past, but financial troubles and environmental concerns brought operations to a stop some years ago.

Fishman and Graedel tried to mitigate the possible issues in their paper, putting specific calculations to the plans described by the DOE. They concluded that creating a domestic program to build and install offshore wind turbines would create a complex web, raising questions of natural resource consumption, regional demand, and the recyclability of the turbine technology.

Their calculations could launch a realistic conversation of internalizing production of these turbines, which could possible with the proper management.

We can’t be sure that offshore wind power will take off in the U.S., but there are a lot of positives. We’ve seen land-based wind power in the U.S. succeed, in spite of political partisanship. Though this has added layers of complexity, there’s some promise there

Tomer Fishman said.