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Rare Earths, Materials Hub Set for Ames National Lab

Distilled yttrium metal (Ames National Laboratory)

Distilled yttrium metal (Ames National Laboratory)

The U.S. Department of Energy will establish a research center at Ames National Lab in Iowa to find solutions to domestic shortages of rare earth metals and other critical materials for energy security. The $120 million Critical Materials Institute, will bring together for five years researchers from academia, four national laboratories, and the private sector.

The Critical Materials Institute will be one of the Energy Department’s Energy Innovation Hubs. The institute is expected to conduct studies leading to better use of currently accessible materials and eliminate the need for materials that are subject to supply disruptions. Many of the materials considered critical by the Energy Department are used to produce clean energy or increase energy efficiency, such as wind turbines, solar panels, electric vehicles, and energy-efficient lighting.

A 2011 Energy Department study on critical materials strategy reported that supply challenges for five rare earth metals — dysprosium, terbium, europium, neodymium, and yttrium (pictured right) — may affect clean energy technology deployment in the coming years. Critical Materials Institute aims to help find new sources of these materials, improve the economics of existing sources, accelerate material development and deployment, encourage more efficient use of these materials in manufacturing, and assess and address the life cycles of new materials.

Alex King, director of the Ames Lab, will also serve as director Critical Materials Institute. Ames Lab was selected to lead the institute following an open competition and recommendatons by outside reviewers.

Industry partners of the Critical Materials Institute to help advance its technologies include General Electric, OLI Systems Inc., SpinTek Filtration Inc., Advanced Recovery, Cytec Inc., Molycorp Inc., and Simbol Materials. University and research partners include Brown University, Colorado School of Mines, Purdue University, Rutgers University, University of California-Davis, Iowa State University, and Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute.

Other national labs taking part in Critical Materials Institute include Idaho National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

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