In response to concerns about severe shortages of rare earth metals needed for clean energy applications, on January 9, 2013, the Department of Energy announced the formation of a Critical Materials Institute, under the Department’s Energy Innovation Hub program. With government support, China has ramped up production of rare earth oxides, metals, and alloys, and currently controls 90%+ of each of these markets, driving up costs and squeezing supply. Rare earth materials have unique magnetic, catalytic, and luminescent properties, and are essential to the production of wind turbines, solar panels, electric vehicles, and energy-efficient lighting.
The new Institute will receive $120 million in funding over the next five years and will focus on four areas:
- Diversifying supply
- Developing substitutes
- Improving reuse and recycling
- Conducting crosscutting research
The project will be led by Ames Laboratory, with participation from researchers in universities, government labs, and private companies.