Energy Innovation Hub Tackles Shortages of Rare Earth Metals

January 16, 2013

The Energy Department on January 9 selected Ames Laboratory for an award of $120 million over five years to establish an Energy Innovation Hub, which will seek solutions to shortages of rare earth metals and other materials impacting U.S. energy security. The new Critical Materials Institute (CMI) in Ames, Iowa, will assemble researchers from the Department's Idaho National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, as well as academia and the private sector.

The new Hub will focus on technologies that will enable the United States to make better use of accessible materials and to eliminate the need for materials that are subject to supply disruptions. Many materials deemed critical by the Department are used in wind turbines, solar panels, electric vehicles, and energy-efficient lighting. The Department'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. In recent years, the Energy Department and others have scaled up work to address these challenges. Among the recent investments, the Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy and Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy have supported more than $40 million in magnet, motor, and generator research.

CMI will leverage these existing research programs into a larger, coordinated effort. The Hub will address challenges across the entire life cycle of these materials. Cross-cutting research, including developing computational tools and supply-chain and economic analyses, will also be necessary to support the basic science needs across all challenge areas. Selected through an open national competition with a rigorous merit review process that relied on outside expert reviewers, CMI is the fifth Energy Innovation Hub established by the Energy Department since 2010. See the Energy Department press release.