An economics strategy for criticality – Application to rare earth element Yttrium in new lighting technology and its sustainable availability

Kuangyuan Zhang, Andrew N. Kleit, Antonio Nieto

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

30 Scopus citations


In the sustainability of the US economy to restrictions in the supply of various rare earth elements (REEs) have been of great concern over the last decade. This research examines the “criticality” of Yttrium, the most commonly used rare earth element in new lighting technology, wind turbine additive, and other renewables for a sustainable society. Criticality depends on source's supply, relevant uses, and substitutes. Yttrium currently comes largely from only a few areas in south China, increasing the resulting economic vulnerability in short term. In the medium term, however, the supply threat for Yttrium may decrease as more sources become available. In south China, which is the major source of world Yttrium supply, Yttrium is produced with other REEs. As Yttrium's content is high in the ion adsorption clays in south China, its supply is not likely to be disturbed by price changes of other co-products. In north China (Baiyun Ebo), where the content of Yttrium is lower, rare earth elements are usually produced as by-product of iron. Meanwhile, Yttrium production causes a variety of environmental/sustainability issues, making the supply stream vulnerable to more stringent environmental politics. Yttrium is employed in a variety of uses, and difficult to replace in compact fluorescent lights (CFL) as phosphor, and other renewable energy such as additives in wind turbine. The short-run high demand for CFLs increases the criticality of Yttrium. In the longer term, however, the demand for CFLs is expected to fall.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)899-915
Number of pages17
JournalRenewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment

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