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It was a past-meets-future moment when Karl “Mr. Rare Earth” Gschneidner Jr. cut the ribbon at opening ceremonies for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute in September.

Gschneidner, a rare-earths materials expert and scientist at the Ames Laboratory since 1952, was the natural choice to grace the Critical Materials Institute’s official launch.

“The Ames Laboratory has been laying the groundwork for this moment ever since the Lab first opened,” said CMI director Alex King. “It seemed particularly appropriate for Karl to cut the ribbon, since he built so much of the foundation that made this possible.”

It is that research heritage that makes the Ames Laboratory such a good fit with the mission of the new institute, said interim director Tom Lograsso during speeches made that day.

“Drawing from our historical strength in rare-earth chemistry, metallurgical expertise, and analytical capabilities, the Critical Materials Institute will carry on the research tradition that has been the hallmark of the Ames Laboratory,” he said.

The opening event also included remarks from King, Iowa State University President Steven Leath, and David Danielson, Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

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David Danielson
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Tom Lograsso
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Alex King
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Steven Leath

With the Critical Materials Institute, its fifth Energy Innovation Hub, the DOE launched a concentrated effort to develop solutions to domestic shortages of rare-earth metals and other materials vital to U.S. energy security. These materials are essential in many modern clean-energy technologies – such as wind turbines, solar panels, electric vehicles, and energy-efficient lighting.

“A robust and innovative clean-energy sector creates new jobs, helps strengthen our economy, and ensures a cleaner and safer planet for our children,” said Danielson. “The global clean-energy race is not something we can afford to lose. America must continue to make significant investments in clean-energy technologies and the Department of Energy is leaving no stone unturned in our all-of-the-above approach to solving the nation’s energy challenges.”

Leath said the university and federal partnership has historically led to “incredible advancements” in fuels, new materials, and environmental sustainability, and would continue to do so.

“We’re extremely proud that the Ames Laboratory and Iowa State University were selected by the Department of Energy to lead its newest hub here,” said Leath. “We’re ready to tackle the challenges in ensuring that this nation, its industries and government, have a safe, stable and reliable supply of critical materials.”

DOE announced in January that the Ames Laboratory had been selected to lead the Critical Materials Institute with federal funding of up to $120 million over five years. The hub is a collaboration of leading researchers from universities, four DOE national laboratories, and members of industry. Energy Innovation Hubs are major integrated research centers with researchers from many different institutions and technical backgrounds, combining basic and applied research with engineering to accelerate scientific discovery in critical energy areas.

On the same day as the ribbon-cutting, scientists and representatives from partner institutions convened at the new research hub to chart a path for future research.

“We began building this team in 2010,” said King. “Opening the Institute is really just a milestone on our way to meeting the real goal—innovative solutions to avoid critical material shortages.”

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Ames Laboratory senior metallurgist Karl Gschneidner Jr. receives applause after cutting the ribbon to mark the opening of the Critical Materials Institute.