Earlier this week, the Department of Energy hosted a social media web event, or “Hangout,” to provide further details on its latest research effort to “address supply disruptions for rare earths and other critical materials” at Ames Laboratory.
During the event, David Sandalow, DoE’s Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs, and Alex King, the new director of the Critical Materials Hub and current director of the Ames Lab, shared details on the objectives and strategy of the new project and answered questions from the audience on Twitter and Facebook. They were joined by Steven Duclos from GE Global Research representing the industry partners with whom the research center will cooperate closely.
Some of the key points brought up during the events were the following:
- DoE has acknowledged the challenges associated with China’s near total supply monopoly when it comes to Rare Earths, and the new Hub is the result of a new and more systematic approach to this issue.
- The Hub will strive to find solutions for the entire life cycle of critical materials – meaning that it will look for points in a material’s life cycle that is amenable to a “nudge” from new technology and new science.
- The biggest research priorities for the new center are:
- To make mining viable, no matter what the cost profile looks like to create greater diversity of supply.
- Finding substitutes
- Reduce demand by increasing efficiency by which we use REEs in the manufacturing and recycling processes
- Economic analysis and forecasting, as identifying what will become critical will give head-start to enable other parts of strategy to take hold and help avoid price spikes.
- While ocean bed mining is something to watch, near-term efforts should focus on land masses.
- Creating “alternative” materials remains challenging, as in order to avoid redesigns in manufacturing processes you want exactly the same properties without using the same materials.
- “Recycling” must also focus on the early stages of the manufacturing process, as many byproducts are not efficiently used (for more on byproducts see our Gateway Metals study).
According to Alex King, “there are materials where no matter how much money [you have] you might not be able to buy what you need.”
You can watch the full event on DoE’s Youtube channel.