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First anniversary gift for Critical Material Institute? Inventions. Eleven of them.

Alex King, Director, Critical Materials Institute, (515) 296-4500
Laura Millsaps, Public Affairs, Ames Laboratory, (515) 294-3474


The Critical Materials Institute (CMI), an Energy Innovation Hub for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), celebrated its first anniversary with eleven invention disclosures, all research milestones in a mission to assure the availability of rare earths and other materials critical to clean energy technologies.

The inventions include improved extractive processes, recycling techniques, and substitute materials-technologies designed to increase production and efficiency of, and reduce reliance on, the use of rare earths and other critical materials.

The invention disclosures were a result of a solid year of scientific work that coordinated the efforts of 250 researchers across 18 institutions, created several unique facilities, and established an industrial affiliates program to engage the manufacturing sector.

Image"Starting up an organization of this size is an accomplishment by itself," said Alex King, director of the Critical Materials Institute. "Establishing experimental tools like a custom-modified 3D printer (at right) for testing new magnet materials and a new chemical pilot plant for testing new extractive processes takes a lot of time and effort. We've gone beyond that to create a whole set of new discoveries in record time.  That reflects some impressive teamwork by our researchers and their support staff."

The institute even won a nod from the White House as it celebrated the third anniversary of the Materials Genome Initiative (

CMI was launched in 2013 with a budget of up to $120M over five years as one of DOE's Energy Innovation Hubs, which are major integrated research centers designed to accelerate scientific discovery in critical areas. Led by the Ames Laboratory, the CMI's goal is to address shortages of materials critical to clean energy technologies like wind turbines, electric vehicles, efficient lighting, advanced batteries, and other products used by Americans every day.

Reviewing CMI's first year, DOE officials praised the institute's organizational structure, its collaboration of experts in the field, and its progress in research and development.

"The DOE seems to be pretty happy with our progress so far," said King. "The list of inventions is getting a lot of positive attention in Washington, which is gratifying."

CMI launched its second year July 1, and will host its annual meeting Sept. 9. It is also establishing new research collaborations with other countries to accelerate the achievement of its goals, and will host the Trilateral Critical Materials Working Group, a collaboration of the European Union, Japan, and the United States, in September.

"We've made a great start, but the real payoff will happen when corporations start using our inventions to help in the manufacture of clean energy technologies," King said. "We are spending increasing amounts of time talking with manufacturers and their suppliers to find out how we can help them to solve their critical materials problems, and I am confident that there will be some commercialization of our work very soon.  Given that it usually takes about 20 years to commercialize new materials technologies, we are going to be setting some records with CMI."

The Critical Materials Institute is a Department of Energy Innovation Hub led by the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory. CMI seeks ways to eliminate and reduce reliance on rare-earth metals and other materials critical to the success of clean energy technologies.

Ames Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science national laboratory operated by Iowa State University. Ames Laboratory creates innovative materials, technologies and energy solutions. We use our expertise, unique capabilities and interdisciplinary collaborations to solve global problems.