Rare-earth metals and other materials critical to existing and emerging technologies are facing global shortages now and in the future.
That was the urgent message Alex King, director of the Critical Materials Institute, a U.S. Department of Energy research hub at the Ames Laboratory, presented to a committee of the Parliament of Canada on Tuesday.
King was asked to testify as a witness to the Standing Committee on Natural Resources of the House of Commons in an ongoing study of the rare earths industry in Canada.
Rare-earth elements possess unique properties, King explained to committee members, and are used in a wide variety of essential technologies, including high performance magnets, highly efficient light sources, and in catalysts for the production of petrochemicals.
"And there are no easy substitutes for them in most of their applications," said King. "Rare earths are among the most difficult elements to process, and are the hardest to do without."
King leads the newly created Critical Materials Institute, tasked with finding solutions to rare earth and other critical materials shortages by addressing supply chain weaknesses in three ways: developing technologies that diversify and expand availability; reducing waste; and reducing demand by finding substitutes. King said over 35 research projects at CMI target specific problems in the supply chain.
Aside from research and development needs, King also identified a lack of processing facilities in North America for rare earth materials.
"Time is our major challenge. We have issues today but it can take 10 years or more to start a mine, and it can take 20 years to invent a new material," said King. "Shortage situations develop within a matter of months, solutions take a decade, or at best years. We need a better ability to anticipate which materials will become critical and we need increased speed of response."
King was joined by three other witnesses representing Canadian mining interests: Al Shefsky, president and CEO of Pele Mountain Resources; Peter Cashin, president and CEO of Quest Rare Minerals, and AndrÃ© Gauthier, president and CEO of Matamec Explorations.
The Critical Materials Institute, is an Energy Innovation Hub led by the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory and it seeks ways to eliminate and reduce reliance on rare-earth metals and other materials critical to the success of clean energy technologies. DOE Energy Innovation Hubs are integrated research centers that bring together scientists and engineers from many different institutions and technical backgrounds to accelerate scientific discovery in areas vital to U.S. energy security.
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.