Shortage of Rare Earth Metals Dealt by The Department of Energy

rare-earth-metalsIn order to deal with domestic shortages of rare earth metals, The Department of Energy (DOE) has established a research hub that will develop strategies and find solutions to preserve the depleting resources.The rare earth elements are 17 in total and include scandium, yttrium and the 15 lanthanides (lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium and lutetium). They are called ‘rare’ because they are never part of easily exploitable deposits, due to their specific geochemical properties.

These elements are of a crucial significance to the U.S energy security. They are used in a number of devices that contribute to the national security and high-tech economy. These include computer components, high-power magnets, wind turbines, solar panels, mobile phones, electric vehicle batteries, LCD screens, among others.

The hub is expected to take into account the entire cycle of these elements in order to establish new sources, improve the existing ones, optimize material development and deployment, suggest strategies to improve the efficiency of the manufacturing process, and accelerate recycling and reuse.

The initiative was established in 2010 by the Ames Laboratory. In 2011, the DOE reported that problems with the supply of dysprosium, terbium, europium, neodymium and yttrium, might affect the development of clean energy projects.

A new research center will be set up, called the Critical Materials Institute (CMI), which will bring together researchers from academia, four DOE national laboratories and members of the private sector.

According to David Danielson, assistant secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the new initiative will work to find technology solutions to prevent the supply shortage and protect the clean energy industry and security interests.

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