Policy & Market


Rare earths miner Molycorp invests in Boulder Wind Power

US-based turbine developer Boulder Wind Power has won investment from mining firm Molycorp, securing a supply of rare earth magnets for its innovative technology.

Molycorp has invested in part of Boulder Wind's $35m capital-raising effort, buying convertible preferred stock. It did not reveal the size of its investment.

The mining firm will also gain a seat on Boulder Wind’s board and become the preferred provider of rare earth magnets and alloys.

“Gaining access to Molycorp's magnetic rare earth materials positions this superior technology to accelerate rapidly and our company to grow with it,” says Sandy Butterfield, chief executive of Boulder Wind Power.

Wind turbines using rare-earth magnets are increasingly popular as they allow manufacturers to do away with gearboxes that require frequent maintenance.

However, China’s dominant position in global rare earth mining has raised concerns about future supply of the metals, with surging prices this year already impacting major producers of permanent magnet wind turbines.

Unlike other permanent magnet direct drive turbines, Boulder Wind’s technology does not require dysprosium, a rare earth metal in relatively scarce supply. It is not clear which rare earths are used in the company’s turbine design.

The company also uses less steel, allowing it to significantly cut the cost of turbine manufacture.

Turbines based on its technology are expected to produce power at or below $0.04 cents per kWh, allowing them to compete directly with fossil fuel-based generation.

"By effectively solving the dysprosium supply problem for the wind turbine industry, this technology removes a major hurdle to the expansion of permanent magnet generator wind turbines across global markets," says Mark Smith, Molycorp chief executive.

Smith says the investment is part of Molycorp's 'mine-to-magnets' business strategy, providing the company with “potentially large markets” for its magnetic rare earths.

Venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates, an early investor in Boulder Wind Power, is also investing in the latest round of funding.

In July, Siemens said it had set up a joint venture with Lynas, an Australian rare earths mining firm, giving it a supply of rare earths for wind turbine production.