New Separations Technology for Rare Earths Focus of DOE Research Fundings

Developing new technology for separations of rare earth materials are a focus of new projects funded by the U.S. Department of Energy for several scientific research programs. Finding alternative materials was also an objective in $20 million of commitments going to five national laboratories for basic research efforts aimed at ensuring a stable domestic supply of rare earth elements which are deemed critical for a wide range of technologies essential to the nation’s energy, economic, and national security. 

“Rare earth elements play an indispensable role in materials needed for today’s advanced technologies and are essential to a functioning American economy,” said Dr. Chris Fall, director of DOE’s Office of Science, when the projects were announced in April. “This fundamental research is aimed at both improving current availability and supply of these elements and finding promising alternative materials.” Nearly $7 million was pledged for the initial year of the three-year programs. 

The research will focus on improving the efficiency of both the use of the elements and their extraction from geological and recycled sources. It will also seek to reduce the reliance on rare earth elements by discovering substitute materials with similar or even enhanced properties. Four of the five programs focus on advancing the science of minerals separations technology as an enabler of processing rare earths. 

Teams will include researchers from both DOE laboratories and universities. The laboratories are Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and National Renewable Energy Laboratory.