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Materials Science Profiles of Progress – Penn State University Launches Center for Critical Minerals

Against the backdrop of a growing awareness of our over-reliance on foreign mineral resources — one need to look no further than the current coverage of China’s threat to play the “rare earths card” — Penn State University is launching a Center for Critical Minerals.

Under the auspices of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, the Center will “leverage Penn State’s existing faculty, facilities and research strengths in an effort to make the University the go-to resource for critical minerals research and technical support for industry.”

Says Pete Rozelle, A Penn State alumnus and retired program manager for the U.S. Department of Energy, who advises the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences on mineral resource issues:

“Penn State has a long tradition of meeting industry and government research needs in the minerals field. (…) From geologic exploration to mineral extraction technologies to techno-economic analyses, the University’s new Center for Critical Minerals offers a comprehensive set of capabilities to support the development of new U.S. sources for these mineral products.”

The center’s focus will be placed on:

“Gain[ing]  a fundamental understanding of the presence, chemical nature and associations of critical mineral products in geologic formations, as well as secondary sources such as coal and other mining waste streams and metallurgical waste dumps, electronic waste and sludges from the treatment of acid mine drainage, and byproduct water from the oil and gas industry.

-Develop[ing] novel processes for extraction and separation/purification while advancing the fundamentals and developing technologies for sustainable recovery of critical materials.

-Develop[ing] financial models and project values utilizing realistic models for field-scale processes for mineral recovery and detailed databases for costs and price projections.

-Analyz[ing] alternate economic and policy scenarios and develop policy guidelines for implementation of field projects.

-Provid[ing] technical support for commercial project development activities associated with bridging value chain gaps.

In its efforts, the center will collaborate with government and the private sector.  This approach  has already yielded some great breakthroughs, several of which we have featured in our Materials Science Profiles of Progress series on the ARPN blog — including a successful collaboration between Penn State and DoE researchers to develop an “economical way to extract rare earth elements from coal byproducts using an advanced ion exchange method.”

Of course, however, while we applaud the effort, followers of ARPN will know that the initiative can only be considered one piece of the puzzle, and must be firmly embedded in the context of a “broader strategy to ‘ensure secure and reliable supplies of critical minerals.”

Hopefully, the developments we’ve witnessed over the last few weeks on the mineral resource front will serve as a catalyst for the formulation and implementation of said broader strategy.