The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) is stepping up its research efforts in the field of critical and strategic materials. As announced on January 9, the Department is funding the establishment of an “Energy Innovation Hub” through Ames Laboratory in Ames, Iowa.
Named the Critical Materials Institute (CMI), the new research center will “bring together the best and brightest research minds from universities, national laboratories and the private sector to find innovative technology solutions that will help us avoid a supply shortage that would threaten our clean energy industry as well as our security interests.”
CMI will be directed by Ames Laboratory Director Alex King and will strive to address the issues of domestic supply shortages of Rare Earths and other materials deemed critical by DoE in its 2011 Critical Materials Strategy. The goal of the new research hub is to leverage “existing research programs into a larger coordinated effort designed to eliminate materials criticality as an impediment to the commercialization of clean energy technologies.”
The launch of the Critical Materials Institute holds much promise, especially as it will also draw from research partners from reputable schools, as well as industry labs. Hopefully, the effort will be broadened to a multi-agency approach that ultimately reconciles the definitional dissonances of what constitutes critical and strategic materials throughout U.S. government – dissonances that hamper sound and coherent policymaking, and needlessly leave U.S. manufacturers vulnerable to mineral supply disruptions.