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The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced that a team led by Ames Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, has been selected for an award of up to $120 million over five years to establish an Energy Innovation Hub that will develop solutions to the domestic shortages of rare-earth metals, which are critical in the manufacture of wind turbines and other clean energy technologies.

The new research center, which will be named the Critical Materials Institute (CMI), will bring together leading researchers from academia, four DOE national laboratories, and the private sector.

"Rare-earth metals and other critical materials are essential to manufacturing wind turbines, electric vehicles, advanced batteries and a host of other products that are essential to America’s energy and national security," explains David Danielson, assistant secretary for the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).

“The Critical Materials Institute 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,” he adds.

In responding to the DOE’s call for proposals, Ames Lab assembled a team that offers capabilities covering the full spectrum of critical-materials research and development, from mining to separations, alloy formulations, component and systems development, and materials recycling.

The new hub will focus on technologies that will enable the U.S. to make better use of the materials found domestically as well as eliminate the need for materials that are subject to supply disruptions.

The DOE’s 2011 Critical Materials Strategy reported that supply challenges for five rare-earth metals (dysprosium, terbium, europium, neodymium and yttrium) may affect clean energy technology deployment in the coming years.

Recently, the DOE and others have scaled up work to address these challenges. In fact, the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy and EERE have supported more than $40 million in magnet, motor and generator research.

CMI will leverage these existing research programs into a larger, coordinated effort designed to eliminate materials’ criticality as an impediment to the commercialization of clean energy technologies, the DOE explains.

The hub will address challenges across the entire life cycle of these materials, including the following: enabling new sources; improving the economics of existing sources; accelerating material development and deployment; ensuring more efficient practices in manufacturing; promoting recycling and reuse; and developing strategies to assess and address the life cycles of new materials.

Cross-cutting research, including the development of computational tools and supply-chain and economic analyses, will also be necessary in order to support the basic science needs across all challenge areas.

CMI will be headquartered at Ames Laboratory and will be directed by Alex King, who is currently director of Ames Lab. Other national labs partnering with Ames include Idaho National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. University, and research partners include Brown University, the Colorado School of Mines, Purdue University, Rutgers University, the University of California-Davis, Iowa State University, and the Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute.

Industry partners that have joined to help advance CMI-developed technologies include General Electric, OLI Systems Inc., SpinTek Filtration Inc., Advanced Recovery, Cytec Inc., Molycorp Inc. and Simbol Materials.


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