Energy establishes research hub for rare earth metals

Shortage could impede green technology
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To address the domestic shortage of rare earth metals, the Energy Department announced Jan. 9 that it has awarded $120 million over five years to start a new research center led by an Ames Laboratory team.

Rare earth metals are critical to produce wind turbines, electric cars, fluorescent lights, smartphones and more. Shortages of dysprosium, neodymium, terbium, europium and yttrium could well impede the development of such technologies in the future, the department says.

The center, named the Critical Materials Institute, plans to work toward more efficient use of the metals in manufacturing, establish new sources, and improve systems for reuse. It also intends to design replacement materials.

It will include researchers from four national laboratories, academia and the private sector, under the direction of Alex King, the current director of the Ames Lab, which will be the site of its headquarters.

"The CMI has built the right team, management, and technical plan and is ready to pursue its mission to eliminate the criticality of materials as a barrier to adopting clean energy technologies," King said in a press release.

The center is the fifth Energy Innovation Hub the Energy Department has established since 2010. The hubs bring together researchers from different institutions and backgrounds and are modeled after efforts like the Manhattan Project, the department says.

The other hubs include the Energy Efficient Buildings Hub, the Fuels From Sunlight Hub, and the Modeling and Simulation for Nuclear Reactors Hub. The Batteries and Energy Storage Hub, announced in November, is to be based at Argonne National Laboratory.

For more:
- go to the Jan. 9 announcement
- download DOE's Critical Materials Strategy (.pdf)

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