Seeking alternative midstream sources of needed tech metals Metal Tech News – August 25, 2021
To help bolster domestic production of rare earth elements and other critical minerals, the United States Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management is providing a total of nearly $1 million in federal funding for cost-shared research and development to six projects focused on recovering these critical raw materials from waste streams and other unconventional sources.
Critical minerals are necessary to manufacture a wide range of high-tech devices, including technologies for national defense, renewable energy generation, and electric vehicles. The U.S., however, does not produce 14 of the 35 minerals, metals, and groups of elements deemed critical to the nation and creates less than half its needs for many of the others. This dearth of domestic production leaves the country heavily dependent on imports to meet its demand.
Amongst these critical minerals are the rare earths used to manufacture smartphones, LED screens, solar panels, wind turbines, EV motors, defense technologies, and other essential high-tech applications. The U.S. imports 80% of its REEs from China, with portions of the remainder indirectly sourced from China through other countries.
DOE projects that the $5 billion global REE market will grow 40% over the next five years, with similar growth anticipated for the remainder of the critical minerals market.
By developing its own domestic supply of REEs and other critical minerals, America can reduce its risk of supply disruption in essential domestic and military industries while producing needed materials for the emerging clean energy technology market.
Toward this goal, DOE announced on Aug. 23 that it has selected six projects focused on developing innovative midstream processing technologies that offer environmentally benign and potentially lower-cost critical mineral production.
These DOE-funded critical mineral projects are:
• Technology development and integration for volume production of high purity rare earth metals from phosphate processing – DOE funding $150,000 and non-DOE Funding $37,508. Florida Polytechnic University and partners Florida International University and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory plan to develop an integrated technical research plan based on advanced processes for recovery, separation, and purification of mixed rare earth oxides from phosphoric acid sludge feedstock. The Mosaic Company will provide the feedstock, and USA Rare Earth will be the end-user of the produced rare earth metals.
• Multi-sourced collaboration for the production and refining of rare and critical metals – DOE funding $150,000 and non-DOE Funding $61,409. The University of Kentucky and academic, industrial and national laboratory partners aim to deliver a recommended pathway and research plan to apply advanced technologies for the production of individually separated, high-purity metal oxides/salts and reduction to metal processes with the potential of minimizing environmental impact and reducing capital and operating costs by more than 20% over conventional processes, while delivering a minimum of five rare earth metals with a purity greater than 99.5% and five critical minerals with a purity greater than 90%.
• Tunable electrochemical pathway for high-purity rare earth metals and critical minerals – DOE funding $150,000 and non-DOE Funding $37,500. The University of North Dakota EERC and academic and industrial partners plan to develop a technical research plan for defining and assessing the techno-economic viability of a tunable electrochemical pathway for producing individually separated high-purity rare earth metals and critical minerals as industrially relevant compounds, from lignite coals and combustion byproducts originating from the Williston Basin.
• Extraction, separation, and production of high purity rare earth elements and critical minerals from coal-based and related resources – DOE funding $150,000 and non-DOE Funding $37,500. The University of Utah and industrial partners aim to develop concepts needed to reuse and remediate coal waste tailings for the production of rare earths and other critical minerals to rebuild American manufacturing capacity, increase economic growth, and reduce the overall environmental footprint.
• Extraction, separation, and production of high purity rare earth elements and critical minerals from coal-based and related resources – DOE funding $149,997 and non-DOE Funding $37,500. West Virginia University Research Corp. and academic and industrial partners plan to leverage ongoing work of extracting rare earth and critical mineral concentrates from acid mine drainage. This project will explore the processing of those concentrates into individually separated, high purity metals suitable for domestic manufacturers.
• Production of germanium and gallium concentrates for industrial processes – DOE funding $149,943 and non-DOE Funding $40,000. Microbeam Technologies Inc. out of Grand Forks, North Dakota and industrial and academic partners aim to develop a conceptual design for a process to extract, separate, recover, and purify germanium and gallium from mixed REE concentrates. The process will be integrated into the University of North Dakota's rare earth extraction process.
In addition to offering alternate domestic sources of critical minerals, DOE says new technologies that emerge from this federally funded research and development have the potential to generate jobs for American communities that have disproportionately suffered adverse economic impacts.