“US to build $120m rare earth research institute” was the headline that BBC News used to report the latest development in the rare earth elements sector (REEs.) The new Critical Materials Institute (CMI) is going to be based in Ames Iowa, alongside the existing Ames Laboratory in Ames, Iowa. The Ames Lab is the USA’s premier research centre for rare earth materials’ science and technology.
“The new research center, which will be named the Critical Materials Institute (CMI), will bring together leading researchers from academia, four Department of Energy national laboratories, as well as the private sector.
Rare earth metals and other critical materials are essential to manufacturing wind turbines, electric vehicles, advanced batteries and a host of other products that are essential to America’s energy and national security,” said the press release.
At first sight, $120 million doesn’t seem that impressive, this is expensive America after all, and in 2013, a dollar doesn’t buy as much as it used to, even in Ames Iowa. Even worse, it’s supposed to be a 5 year program so it’s really just $24 million a year. But the fact that its being put up at all, as America readies itself for a round of budget cuts and tax increases, underlines the importance of REEs and other critical materials to the modern economy.
To return to the press release again:
“CMI, headquartered at The Ames Laboratory, will be directed by Alex King, also the director of the Ames Lab. The Hub will bring together some of the most advanced critical material research programs in the U.S. today. Other national labs partnering with Ames include Idaho National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. University and research partners include Brown University, the Colorado School of Mines, Purdue University, Rutgers University, University of California-Davis, Iowa State University, and Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute. Industry partners that have joined to help advance CMI developed technologies include General Electric; OLI Systems, Inc.; SpinTek Filtration, Inc.; Advanced Recovery; Cytec, Inc.; Molycorp, Inc.; and Simbol Materials.”
In that sense, this 21st century, micro-mini, “Manhattan Project,” just might be able to punch well above its weight. Never underestimate good old Yankee ingenuity once America gets behind a project. Again from the press release:
“The new Hub will focus on technologies that will enable us to make better use of the materials we have access to as well as eliminate the need for materials that are subject to supply disruptions.”
For my part I wish them well and hope that they succeed. I’d rather have a critical materials supply chain based on the highly reliable USA, rather than the corrupt and increasingly erratic China. With luck they’ll come up with more efficient, less dangerous methods of refining and recycling rare earth elements, out witting existing patents too with luck. Not that they need any input from me, but I’ll put my two cents worth in anyway. Since radioactive waste is often a by-product of REE refining, from “Graphene To The Rescue In Gas Production,” an early phone call to Rice University might be a timely place to start.
“The results of new research into microscopic graphene oxide, by researchers at Rice University, Houston, and researchers at Lomonosov Moscow State University in Russia, published this week in the Royal Society of Chemistry, journal Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, came out under the summary: “Graphene oxide far surpasses other materials commonly used to remove radioactive toxins from water.”
The Ames Laboratory to Lead New Research Effort to Address Shortages of Critical Materials