Our global energy supply infrastructure is on the verge of a monumental transition. Technology advancements and manufacturing scale have delivered on the promise of a clean energy future. There is reason to hope that future generations may live in a world where the disasters linked to global climate change have been largely averted. However, recent advances in clean energy technology rely on material resources stemming from supply chains that do not align with the vast scale of this new demand. Critical materials that deliver advanced performance, low cost, and unique properties are often sourced from geopolitically unstable regions with poor track records for human rights and environmental impact. Certain elements do not exist in sufficient quantities or require extraction and refining techniques that are unsustainable. JCDREAM deploys cutting edge research directed towards critical materials challenges which could otherwise derail our progress towards a carbon-neutral energy and transportation future.
Until very recently, renewable energy generation such as wind and solar power has been met with skepticism as seemingly lower cost fossil fuel-based energy generation dominates the supply to our power grid and gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel propels our transportation sector. Now the tables have turned. Over the course of the last year the cost to deploy new renewable energy assets on the power grid has dropped well below the cost of new coal-fired plants and even matched the cost to build natural gas installations – all without risk stemming from volatility in fuel prices. Meanwhile, the total cost of ownership for electric vehicles has dropped below that of an efficient gasoline powered car in the US. These changes in cost structure virtually ensure that the clean energy transition is only just beginning. The size of our global energy infrastructure and transportation sector means that the technologies used to achieve these milestones will be deployed on a massive scale.
However, without careful thought given to materials choices, scientists, engineers, and business leaders may simply substitute the geopolitical and environmental pitfalls of oil and gas for that of cobalt, indium, or rhodium. The diversity of this new challenge alone is daunting with 35 elements highlighted by the USGS as critical minerals key to US economic prosperity.
Now is the time to address this challenge. New clean energy technology has penetrated less than 10% of the total energy and transportation market. Research in the use of earth abundant material substitutes for critical resources, recycling of strategic elements, and improvements to the environmental and human impact of current extraction and refining technology are all areas that require focus. JCDREAM will build on the world class research capability here in Washington state and partner with local and global industry to ensure that the energy needs of our future are not plagued by the same problems of the past.
Aaron Feaver, Director