Critical Materials Research in DOE Video (Text Version)
This is a text version of the "Critical Materials Research in DOE" video presented at the Critical Materials Workshop, held on April 3, 2012 in Arlington, Virginia.
Dr. Mark Johnson, Program Manager, Advanced Projects Research Agency-Energy (ARPA-E)
DR. CHRISTODOULOU: The next talk by Mark Johnson is really a talk a little bit about the solution space, the potential solution space. So let me be quite clear. This is not prescriptive. Mark will merely we are not suggesting that this is what you should be using or doing.
These are examples of potential solutions and potential approaches to meeting this challenge. So let me stress again these are examples; they are not prescriptive.
And with that, Mark?
DR. JOHNSON: Okay. Thank you very much, Leo. Appreciate it.
I am Mark Johnson from ARPA-E. I have been asked here to give a quick overview on some of the work that is going on already in areas related to critical materials. Let me point out this is not prescriptive; it is just saying here are some examples across different offices where there is some work going on.
I think the important thing to point out here is actually this is a cross-department activity. Critical materials are one of those areas where the Department of Energy internally we are really trying to break down these, you know, cylinders of excellence, you might call them, and see if there are some ways we can get through that, and really kind of see where we can work together to try and address some of those problems. So, again, I am Mark Johnson, Program Manager at ARPA-E.
So we have seen the slides already from Diana looking at what the criticality is, looking at the short term and then the medium term.
If you look at research and development, when I was working with Diana over the past year on this, or a year and a half looking at it, really looking at where can research have an impact, and there are a lot of things that can have impact, as the Secretary pointed out things like various financial activities that can happen, that will happen in the short term.
But where research is really going to have impact is in that medium term to long term, right? It becomes a one-way policy arrow, essentially, as I like to say, which is to say we can invent a solution; you can't uninvent that solution. So this really has a long-term impact that will wind up happening.
There's two ways you can look at it. One is you can actually diversify the supply, so you can develop technologies that give you supply alternatives, moving that from right to left, or you can have application alternatives. Can you wind up developing other ways of satisfying the same system need in the energy ecosystem?
So, you know, obviously, referencing up the Critical Materials Strategy reports, there is a great wealth of information out there about how to think about some of the critical materials issues that we have looked at.
And then, giving you an idea about sort of how the Department of Energy is working across boundaries on this and if you look at sort of this is an Arun slide that I borrowed as far as, how does the Office of Science work? How does ARPA-E work? How do the Applied Offices EERE, people like that work?
And, really, it is to be seamless and not to overlap relative to each other, but make sure, as Adam pointed out earlier, there is this Valley of Death out there. And how do we make sure, as technologies are developing, we can get them seamlessly from discovery and basic science all the way out to the point where the private sector will take it and run with that technology?
So thinking about critical materials I thought, well, where has this sort of approach been used before? So I spent the weekend, actually started last week, flying back from Japan rereading, looking at sort of the history of critical materials and taking a little bit of a step back more than two or three years, but looking back a hundred years, at where there are some critical materials, and then see where there are some lessons we can have in terms of R&D.
So a hundred years ago, what was the critical material that we were worried about by everyone's estimate of critical materials? It was, in fact, nitrogen and ammonia, right? So there were wars fought over this.
The industrial source of nitrogen was islands of bird guano that were mined off of Chile and Peru, and it was a critical source of this material, and it also formed the basis of some pretty important applications at the time, having gunpowder and having fertilizer.
And what really was the call to action for the scientific community was William Crookes, the head of the British Academy of Sciences. In 1898, he came out and said, "The fixation of nitrogen is vital to the progress of civilized humanity."
And there were two things he was looking at. One was where food production came from. And, really, the planet without fertilizer could support about two billion people, and we are rapidly on path to wind up hitting that.
And also, looking at where food production was. It was this country over in North America that had just recently gone through a civil war. There are already battles in South America over the you know, the bird guano, and, you know, they were worried about it saying, "How do we wind up solving it?"
And so he said, "Let's call the scientific community. We know if we can solve this problem of nitrogen fixation, making ammonia, we can fix it." So let's look at the history of how that was done. So that was 1898 where they did that.
Well, they had that period of basic scientific research where they were trying to discover how this was working. It was really inventing the entire field of physical chemistry. They were interdisciplinary research at the time was bringing physics physicists all the way together with chemists to get them to solve problems together. This was a breakthrough.
So Oswald and Nernst were the two people that were really pushing in that area. And you had a bunch of usual academic in-fights that happened. And in fact, in 1907, there was a meeting, the Bunsen meeting, where Nernst actually called out Haber and publicly accused him of having bad data and said, you know, "The information you have is wrong. You are obviously not a good experimentalist," because he had different data points on this vapor pressure.
This really got Haber upset. He went back; within nine months he redid his experiment and he realized the reason that Nernst had a different result was because they were doing their experiments at different pressures, right?
And so he went back and that gave him some insight, and he went out to BASF and brought the private sector together, had a contract in 1907 or 1908, March of 1908.
And in fact, Carl Bosch was his program manager, and his program manager would show up about once a quarter, and they would have kind of you know, you would get the experiments, you would get the data about a week before they showed up to see it.
And, in fact, in the spring of 1909 they were kind of at their wit's end and they tried one last thing and they put osmium in as a catalyst about a week before Carl Bosch showed up. And, in fact, it started producing ammonia, and so they had breakthroughs at that point.
And they said, "Okay. This is great, but there is no way we can go to production with this. You've got a lab-scale demonstration." But it was a breakthrough. It was a proof of principle idea. So what we really need to do is have an accelerated research on looking at a group of people bringing together universities, bringing together industries, to really do high throughput screening of catalysis. They didn't call it the Catalytic Genome Project, obviously, but that is what we would call it today.
And then, they brought that together, and within about five to seven years they were able to solve this and they had industrial scale ammonia. Right? And that actually solved the problem.
So the model of the hub, the models of basic research, working together with these breakthrough opportunities, works historically. This has worked before. There's development of the Haber-Bosch process. Actually, there were three Nobel Prizes that were ultimately awarded out of those three individuals up there, so or four individuals.
So looking back to the critical materials problem we have today, you know, one that we spent a lot of time looking at is the rare earth problem, obviously. You've got things like light rare earths and heavy rare earths.
If you go through the critical materials report, you find there is these four sectors you are looking at vehicles, lighting, solar PV, so that is really looking at the indium materials and things like that, indium and gallium that Diana pointed to, and then looking at wind technology.
So ARPA-E, we started taking a look at that. Well, let's take a look first at how we are looking at this problem right now. We are looking at recovery, separations, and this is how our day is organized. We are looking at elimination/substitution. So recovery and separation is saying, how can you wind up taking those resources that you have and wind up getting more of the material, whatever that critical material is?
You look at elimination/substitution. How can you develop alternative pathways to accomplish the same thing? Looking at reduction, how can use that material instead of using a lot of that material to accomplish it, how can you use just enough material? And how can we manipulate the structure and properties of that the overall material, so that the additives you are using are just enough?
And then, looking at sustainability and adaptive use. How can we build things, so we can use it better as a resource throughout the life cycle of that material?
Within ARPA-E and the reason I am going through this isn't just to say ARPA-E is the only people that have looked at this, but we did a study on this starting about a year and a half ago to get a program going. And just to repeat, we had two areas that we were looking at. One was looking at the upstream work, materials and processes, process and separation as we are going to talk more about today.
We also had areas looking at permanent magnets, catalysts, and separators, and looking at lighting and phosphorous as areas where we are looking at alternative applications. So bringing together a group of people to try and think about some of these areas.
And this is the slide directly from that where we are looking at things like, is there geological or recycled feedstocks you could look at? Is there new ways to think about that? Are there in catalysts and separators, are there issues looking at things like gasoline refining at the time, and looking at solid oxide fuel cells? There is a lot of rare earths use in solid oxide fuel cells.
Looking at lighting and phosphors again, this issue of phosphors that go into fluorescent lighting. How do we accelerate the transformation to LEDs? Because LEDs get a lot more kilolumens per kilogram of phosphor material. And then, looking at permanent magnets as well.
We dug down into that to really get some quantitative opportunity to see where is the white space at that point in time. And from that, we wound up focusing in really on the permanent magnet space and saying, "How can we move beyond that?"
And from that, we actually looked at it from a system perspective and said, "At the end of the day, what the clean energy economy or the energy economy needs isn't a better permanent magnet or a better rare earth magnet, they need a better way of coupling electricity and torque together," right? Because that's what magnets really do is they connect electromagnetic energy and mechanical energy together.
And these two areas, looking at electric vehicles and wind turbines as being the driving factors for it, so we went through and set up some quantitative metrics at the time. And these are not the only quantitative metrics that are out there, but it is just an example, and saying what we wanted to be able to do is drive down the learning curve of a new motor, but do that with about an order of magnitude reduction of rare earth content. So setting some metrics out there that way.
The other way of looking at it is you say, well, in a wind turbine generator, what you really worry about is the levelized cost of energy, and so there are some new technologies out there and things like superconductors you could use to generate the torque inside of your generator and create the magnetic fields you need.
I should say that this is already looking at the wind area and looking at the electric vehicle area. ARPA-A really worked very closely with the people in EERE and in the Applied Offices to make sure we were looking at where that roadmap is and how we are working it sort of hand in glove, so it is overlapping each other, but making it so that there is appropriate development, so that, if successful, the projects will have a home in the long run. And the same thing in the wind technology center.
So one of the areas that the Secretary alluded to earlier was looking at, you know, the trajectory of permanent magnets and the energy density. And one of the breakthroughs that is happening right now is the rise in using nanostructuring materials, sort of hard and soft magnetic materials, coupling those together, and where the theoretical limits are, so that you can wind up approaching that.
And, again, how do you wind up doing sort of the hard phase and soft phase? You wind up coupling those together. You get what is called an exchange spring magnet material. These are things that have been shown in sort of thin film structures, proof of principle, scientific demonstrations. How can we wind up taking that first demonstration to a bulk material, where you can suddenly start using it in a wider range of applications?
So what the ARPA-E program what we wound up doing was we wound up looking at three areas we wound up supporting. One was some alternatives that were either low or no rare earth materials. In the case where we've got any rare earth materials, instead of having it rare earth free, we had free rare earths on one of our projects, which is looking at the supply chain in more detail.
You say cerium, how do we make cerium into a magnet? So that is one of the projects. We are also looking at things like iron-nickel, the L1/0 phases, looking at iron-nitrogen kind of phases. These are things that the magnetic recording industry, for instance, is able to use in thin films. How do make bulk material out of it?
Looking at new motor topologies, so completely different direction. How do we just build a motor that doesn't need rare earth materials at all? And so induction motors, switch reluctance motors, there have been great breakthroughs in things like power electronics over the last 10 years that are very, very efficient dry circuits.
How can we use that so you can put electromagnetic use electromagnetism where you want it, when you want it, instead of just a 60 Hertz induction motor. And then looking at some breakthrough points in high temperature superconductors, particularly driving towards the wind turbine application and that area.
So these were the projects we wound up supporting on it. There are 14 different projects that are out there. We had a couple of other investments before that looking at University of Delaware and GE from about a year and a half ago.
Just to give you a high level again, looking at the nanoparticle magnets. This is one idea out there. And Linda was actually were talking about this the other day said, you know, we need to really make sure we remind people that a breakthrough like this is something that has been throughout the pipeline.
So the Office of Science has funded a number of these researchers over the years, as well as EERE has worked with people. But we are trying to make sure we work together, so that instead of duplicating each other's work we wind up leveraging it together to get it working down the pathway.
So how would you look in a hub environment? How can you wind up bringing that more holistically together? So instead of doing it as individual projects that we are trying to across boundaries, how do you bring people together to wind up accelerating that discovery of technology?
So in looking at the Northeastern project as a highlight I like this because it is actually a viewgraph that is a micrograph of a cross-section of a meteorite. The L1/0 phases are the ordered phases of iron-nickel that to form them, it is stable at 370 degrees C and below. It's a solid-solid phase transformation.
The problem is to take a melt and cool it down and get that magnetic phase directly. You would have to cool it at about a tenth of a degree Kelvin per millennium. We don't have enough time for that, so is there a way to rethink that? Can we wind up using sort of directed synthesis approaches, things like that, to wind up getting there directly?
Looking at the advanced motor topologies, this is a project out of General Atomics and University of Texas-Dallas that looks at a new kind of switch reluctance motor. I am not sure if people are familiar with switch reluctance motors at all, but it is essentially using the saliency of a motor. You have electromagnetic stators, and the rotor is just looking at a soft magnet material that rotates through that. You have an odd number or a differential number of rotors and stators on that. Essentially, it works like a stepper motor. Anyone that has ever had a stepper motor in their lab knows that they are noisy, right, and they vibrate. So if you are going to use that in a motor in an engine, you have to deal with that. How can we redesign that topology to get rid of what is called torque ripple as a result of that?
And then, the last one we are looking at out of the ARPA-E projects, we are looking at how you can wind up taking some of the breakthroughs and this has been shown, again, on a fundamental science basis where you can wind up increasing the flux pinning by adding nanowires and nanocolumns inside of the superconducting tapes.
You can wind up getting the total critical current of that tape up by about a factor of four as a result of that. The question is: how can you develop a potentially scalable manufacturing process to introduce those nanowires? That becomes a harder problem, right? Well, not a harder problem, but it is a different point in the problem you wind up looking at.
But if you are able to do that, now you can wind up using those superconductors in a wider range of areas, including using them out on wind turbines and suddenly getting levelized cost of energy low enough as a result of that.
Would not be able to do that, however, had there not been substantial investment already. So, in 2008, one of the areas that ARPA not ARPA-E, but Department of Energy overall and the Office of Science made some substantial investment in science with the Energy Frontier Research Centers, EFRCs, and one of those is the center on superconductivity at Brookhaven.
And, in fact, that is exactly the work that we are leveraging on top of to be able to utilize it for these the ARPA-E program, where that new understanding that comes out of this detailed basic research can then be translated into a potential application out there.
If you look at the rare earth areas as well, BES has really done a lot of support over the years looking at, particularly through Ames Lab, at areas of rare earth focused research, the lanthanide chemistries that are there, and looking at new magnetic materials that have been developed, as well as using novel materials processing properties that are there as far as how to fabricate and use magnets.
Additionally, digging back into the early science. How can we wind up actually using the incredible computational tools we have to have greater understanding of, what is the basis of understanding things like magnetism and the magnetic response to these materials?
Number of projects just to highlight a few of them you know, you are looking not only at using rare earths as magnetics, you can also look at rare earths, at things like magnetostrictive materials.
So instead of a permanent magnet material, you are looking at things like magnetostrictive materials, like nitinol, that are out there in the market right now, but also getting that fundamental understanding of the structure-property relationships and being able to really characterize and control that.
We also looked at how you can wind up utilizing rare earths themselves inside of a superconductor, so understanding neodymium and neodymium-iron interactions, and putting that in superconductive materials, and getting that basic science understanding on that, so that, if successful on it, we can look at utilizing these materials in a new way. Right? Really important to have a greater and greater understanding of how those materials are potentially used out there, because this gives new insight into superconductivity itself in doing that research.
EERE, in the vehicle technologies program, has also done a lot of work in rare earths. And they have been looking at the Beyond Rare Earth Magnets Program for a number of years, looking at Oak Ridge, working together with Ames Lab. And, again, how can you wind up developing nanoparticle synthesis approaches?
So when the Secretary earlier was talking about how on very, very small particles so you're looking at 20, 30 nanometer size, where you combine hard magnetic materials with soft magnetic materials, and how you can make a permanent magnet and you induce permanent magnetism, and that high corrosivity in that soft magnet material as a result of exchanged spring coupling.
The key challenge in that is actually a synthesis problem one of the key challenges. So how can you wind up synthesizing those magnetic powers powders, excuse me, to have the right size and the right properties and the right orientation, the right shape, so you can then ultimately consolidate them and wind up using them in a permanent magnet structure.
Critical materials across the department looks at other critical materials as well. One area people really look at is precious metal group materials, PGM materials, but things like catalysts, using things like fuel cells. So one area that the Office of Science and Applied Research has really looked at is how we can use platinum much more efficiently, much more sparingly, in things like fuel cell applications.
So if these materials are very, very essential, how do we reduce their usage and get the greatest effectiveness out of that material?
I think it's really interesting, actually, where I was using the example earlier looking at the Haber-Bosch process. A key part of that was understanding catalysts. Well, here we are a hundred years later finally actually at the verge of understanding catalysts, right? It is a continuing problem that bringing groups of people together and having new insights into it is really, really important across the energy and across the materials and in the industrial economy that we wind up having.
You can also look at other materials that mimic what platinum does as a catalyst and how you can wind up essentially mimicking nature and learning from nature and even beating nature in having these catalytic effects.
So how can we wind up using nickel and using enzymes to wind up developing new catalyst materials that are out of earth abundant materials that are out there? And so a lot of fundamental research going on in that area.
And, in fact, one of the wide open areas that this becomes cross-cutting is, then, the subsequent use of those catalysts in things like the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis.
This is one of the hubs that was awarded two years ago, the one that is let out of Cal Tech, where how can we wind up mimicking the catalytic processes that happen in things like photosynthesis, that actually go faster than photosynthesis, in converting sunlight into a fuel, right?
Because that is the direction we want to wind up going is we want to ultimately take it so you have sunlight and you wind up having, then, a drop in replacement fuel that can come out of it. A huge need in that is catalysis.
As one of my colleagues likes to say at ARPA-E, if you were to perfectly mimic photosynthesis, and actually learn just what nature can do, you would have a two percent efficient process. Right?
And nature actually developed itself that way well, because if nature was more efficient than that, anything that converted sunlight to fuel more effectively than that would be highly flammable and would be food for everything around it. And evolution fought against being more efficient than that.
So how can we be more efficient than that? That is a huge need out there.
There has also been a lot of work in heavy element chemistry looking at the actinide materials out there, and the actinides obviously is the history of DOE is looking in the actinide area that is out there. One of the areas that it is used and actinides and the lanthanides are very, very similar, right? And so the lanthanides are actually a model system for a lot of the actinide chemistry work that is out there.
Plus, there is a really important part of processing in the whole rare earth supply chain that you have right now, which is often these materials appear in nature together. You have things like thorium in with the rare earth ore. How do you separate out those things relative to each other? There is a huge cost that industry has relative to that. How can we make that more effective? How do we get more understanding about that?
The new approaches that are in that, it is things like, you know, new membranes, new ligands that you can wind up using, to wind up reducing that cost of taking it from ore or taking it from precursor material and making something that is an industrial material that you can ultimately wind up using.
And then, the final issue you are looking at is new separation chemistries. And this really is, again, leveraging a lot of the understanding and the both the capability to characterize material with light sources that we have developed through the Department and a number of the national labs, and looking at that and comparing it with computational models that we wind up having.
So we can truly have this Materials Genome approach to understanding materials and wind up developing not only new materials but new things like the new separation technology, so we can wind up separating those materials more effectively out there.
So there is a number of areas across the Department where we are doing some work right now. I hope I have just given you a little bit of a hint at this.
When we start digging into this, as we have our meetings together every couple of weeks as a critical materials group, it is amazing, at every meeting you find out another area within the Department where someone says, "Hey, I've got this I can bring together, and I've got this that I can bring together, and I've got this that I can bring together."
So it really can be a cross-cutting issue that can work across the Department, all the way from Basic Science up through ARPA-E and through the Applied Office as well.
Again, as Leo pointed out, this is not prescriptive, to say that these are the only areas that ARPA-E is or DOE is interested in. But it is looking at typical examples of where critical materials can be addressed using some of the tools that we have.
With that, thank you very much. (Applause.)
DR. CHRISTODOULOU: Thank you, Mark. That was really excellent.
As we said, that was not prescriptive. That was just to share with you some of the things that are going on. And I want to sort of share the podium here with Chetna, who will walk you through some of the mechanics of where we are going to go next.
But let me just say that all of you received or at least you should have picked up a sheet like this that is named Framing Questions for Discussion. In the spirit of my earlier comments, you know, these are not prescriptive. These are just framing questions for discussion for your groups.
And the groups are going to be led by Linda Horton, Eric Rohlfing, Colin McCormick, and Mark. We will split into those groups to speak. Please contribute. We seek your comments. This is a partnership that we would like to extend and hear your thoughts.
Our objective is to have an outbrief of the sessions at the end of the day today, and so that we can reconvene back into this room all together to do that.
But let me just say the way we chose to frame the questions is kind of interesting, and it is a little different than perhaps we have decided to look at the cross-cutting activities as opposed to the application domains. The Secretary talked about the various application domains, the huge matrix, vehicles, photovoltaics, and so on and so on.
We chose, for this taxonomy at least, to look at it sort of slightly differently, sort of elimination/substitution. What can we do there? Recovery and separation, both primary and secondary. And reduction, sparing use.
And an interesting one sustainable and adaptive use. You know, how do we design for adaptive use? Are there some innovations there? So we would like some discussion in those areas also.
Chetna, would you like to say some more on this?
MS. KHOSLA: So everyone has the framing questions that Leo went through, and what we do want to focus on in these sessions is what let's think broadly about, how can we cut across these issues? So these will be available in the sessions as well.
A few comments. For those of us on the webinar, we are having a session back at 3:45, so do make sure to come back at 3:45 for the afternoon session. And we are going to be accepting comments after this workshop period through the email address that was given. So feel free, if you have something to say later, you can accept we will accept comments there.
We noticed that we are out of participant list hard copies. A few of you asked for that. We have already emailed those out to you. So for those who are physically here and we will email those out to the webinar participants as well shortly.
And our first breakout group, we will be splitting up into the substitution and elimination group, which Mark Johnson will lead, and we will be staying here. The other breakout session will be in Crystal 3 just across the hallway across from the bathrooms. And that will be led by Eric Rohlfing on separations. And that is a very tight space, so please make sure to use all of the seats in there as well.
And, lastly, feel free to move in between these sessions. You know, we know that people here have very vast areas of expertise, and we would love to hear all of your ideas. These breakout sessions are meant to be real collaborative efforts where we want to hear your ideas, what are we missing, what are we not thinking about? Let's think about this as a group of experts in the field.
And then, when we come back at 3:45, we will have reports out from some people in the sessions, and more open discussion period. All right?
DR. CHRISTODOULOU: One last thing. We will be having a working lunch, and during the working lunch I will try and chair informally chair a discussion on policy and markets. So we want to leave the discussion groups, as much as possible, to be technology-oriented. Things like market data collection and public policy issues, we can discuss those during that time as a whole group here.
Once again, please contribute, and we will look forward to your comments. And we will see you shortly. Thank you. (Whereupon, at 10:44 a.m., the proceedings were concluded.)