China has spent decades building the supply chains for rare earths and other critical materials into a weapon aimed directly at U.S. supply chains…The Chinese strategy is based on a harsh calculus: Depriving only defense contractors of rare earth supplies will drive costs and production lead times up for the U.S. military and cause concern within the U.S. government, but it will not lead to widespread public discontent. Jeffery A Green
Rare earth minerals have played a key role in the transformation and explosive growth of China’s world-beating economy over the last few decades. It’s clear from visiting Baotou that it’s had a huge, transformative impact on the city too. As the centre of this 21st Century gold-rush, Baotou feels very much like a frontier town. Tim Maughan
A Lesson in Supply Chain Vulnerability from COVID-19
The world is experiencing supply chain disruptions at a massive scale as COVID-19 lockdowns force many companies to halt operations. The impact is unprecedented in grocery stores, hospitals, and manufacturing businesses across the US and the world.
Products that are typically very abundant sell out before they reach shelves, forcing stores to place limits on essentials. Healthcare providers risk their own wellbeing by altering their behavior to adapt to the shortage of personal protective equipment. Manufacturers are unable to procure parts and raw materials that are crucial to their products.
The supply chain issues of the COVID-19 pandemic give a bleak look into what our clean energy future could look like. Without preparation, research and supply chain diversification into earth-abundant materials, we could face similar shortages that threaten the ability to produce energy technologies in wind, solar, transportation electrification and beyond.
Critical materials are those that are highly necessary, subject to supply risks, and difficult to substitute. The primary example in COVID times is personal protective equipment (PPE) and the PPE supply chain is in crisis. We are all familiar with the shortage of PPE products, but even more telling is the lack of raw material including transparent plastic sheet for face shields, filter material for masks, and even elastic straps. Demand has skyrocketed with large private consumer purchases, increased medical field demand, and stockpiling. PPE supply was vulnerable because such a large portion comes from China, where many firms have locked down.
In a similar fashion, the supply of critical materials for our clean energy future is vulnerable. Supply chains already exhibit strain even though deployment of wind, solar, and electrified transportation is only a small fraction of the fossil fuel-based market. Just as the COVID crisis has dramatically increased our demand for medical PPE, we know that we must also exponentially increase the use of clean technology to avoid a climate crisis.
If we don’t develop earth-abundant alternative materials and supply chains that meet the performance requirements for clean energy technology, our trajectory will stall. If we wait until an energy crisis happens, it will be too late to develop effective alternatives. By working on critical material substitutes before another crisis hits, we can secure our future with abundant and inexpensive clean energy.
Companies may be able to plug holes in supply chains disrupted by the new coronavirus infections paralyzing Chinese production, but there are some commodities virtually only China can supply: rare earths. Marcy Kreiter
We are thrilled to announce the 2019 JCDREAM Seed Grant Awardees. The winners come from a range of institutions throughout the state of Washington. Their projects cover earth-abundant materials science from a variety of angles. We look forward to seeing the results of their research.
1. Materials Washington
Materials Washington will be an alliance of community and technical colleges working collaboratively with industry, policymakers, and professional associations to advance Washington’s leadership role in the global materials environment. The collaboration will enhance the competitiveness of Washington’s materials technicians and engineering workforce by providing innovative training and education using materials focused modules and state-of-the-art technology.
This project will use JCDREAM funding to establish the Materials Washington consortium and develop two modules that will become the foundation of future public and professional development opportunities and education and training. The project team plans to use the modules as an avenue to offer professional development opportunities to secondary and post-secondary educators, industry, and other stakeholders.
Principal Investigator: Mel Cossette | National Resource Center for Materials Technology Education, Edmonds Community College
Principal Investigator: Ann Avary | Center of Excellence for Maritime Manufacturing and Technology, Skagit Valley College
Industrial Collaborator: George Parker | Boeing
2. Spectroscopic Ellipsometer
The spectroscopic ellipsometer will be used to determine the optical properties and molecular orientation in organic photovoltaics. Organic photovoltaics (OPVs) have enormous potential as an earth-abundant renewable energy technology, but their performance and reproducibility in a scalable manufacturing platform are not yet competitive. The spectroscopic ellipsometer quantitatively measures refractive index and extinction coefficients across the UV-vis-NIR spectral range. From this information, dielectric properties, conductivity, and complex absorbance effects can be extracted. For coatings, film thickness can be accurately measured from sub-monolayer to tens of microns and can even be applied to absorbing materials and multilayered structures.
Principal Investigator: Brian Collins | Washington State University, Department of Materials Science & Engineering
3. Recycling of Aerospace Thermoplastic Composites
The future of sustainable air transport technologies such as electric and short-range aircraft depends on significantly reducing the weight of aerostructures. Light-weighting will require utilization of fewer metallic components and demand further development and adoption of earth-abundant materials like carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP) composites. Thermoplastic composites (TPCs) are an excellent light-weighting solution with superiour impact- and fracture-resistance, but are more expensive and therefore less commonly used. Cost reduction and widespread implementation of TPCs can be realized through recycling of TPC materials. This project will purchase a high temperature compression molding machine to study the properties and processability of recycled TPCs to further reduce the need for critical metallic materials commonly used in aerospace.
Principal Investigator: John Misasi, PhD | Western Washington University, College of Science & Engineering
Industrial Collaborator: Robert Kearney | Boeing
4. Center for Rational Catalyst Synthesis
Catalysis is a hidden but high-impact science at the heart of the energy, chemical and environmental industries. About 20% of the world’s economy depends directly or indirectly on catalysis. Despite their immense importance, the development of new heterogeneous catalysts is still largely empirical, particularly at the stage of synthesis. The Center for Rational Catalyst Synthesis (CeRCaS) is the world’s first and only research center focusing on transforming the art of catalyst preparation into a science.
To date, virtually all commercially employed catalysts are based on rare, precious metals. CeRCaS focuses mainly on the rational design of catalysts using earth-abundant materials. It currently has two nodes with a third in progess. This seed grant will assist in establishing a fourth node at Washington State University focusing on electrocatalysts and emission exhaust catalysts, which are both important in the transportation sector.
Principal Investigator: Jean-Sabin McEwen, PhD | Washington State University, School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering
Principal Investigator: Su Ha, PhD | Washington State University, School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering
Industrial Collaborator: Cynthia Webb | PACCAR
5. Solubility Optimization of Organic Redox Flow Battery Electrolytes
Redox flow batteries (RFB) promise to significantly reduce grid-scale energy storage costs and to accelerate adoption of transient renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. The vanadium RFB (VRFB) leads in market adoption due to its long-term stability, proven performance and efficiency. Since vanadium is a critical material, the reliability of its supply inhibits VRFBs ability to be deployed at scale. Organic electrolytes, which are synthetically produced from earth-abundant elements, present an alternative for wide-scale deployment of RFBs.
This seed grant will purchase a multi-mode spectrophotometer to be used in combination with an existing cluster of robotic tools to formulate and test ORFB electrolytes based on redox-active organic molecules. It will be used specifically to measure and optimize the solubility and stability of organic redox species in electrolytes at variable conditions.
Principal Investigator: Lilo Pozzo, PhD |University of Washington, School of Chemical Engineering
Principal Investigator: Wei Wang, PhD | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Battery Materials & Systems Group
Industrial Collaborator: Greg Newbloom | Membrion
6. Cycloturbine Research
Modern wind turbines require a great deal of rare earth metals. If the efficiency of turbines can be increased, less rare earth metals will be required to produce the same amount of energy. The WSU Wind Engineering Team is conducting research into cycloturbines, a wind turbine that has a higher theoretical maximum efficiency than traditional horizontal axis wind turbines. Optimization of cycloturbines could result in a 25% deduction in rare earth element usage in wind due to increased efficiency and reduced equipment production.
This seed grant will fund the purchase of an educational wind tunnel for researching cycloturbine performance. The WSU Wind Engineering team is a collaboration between WSU Everett, Everett Community College (EvCC) and the Advanced Manufacturing Training and Education Center (AMTEC).
Principal Investigator: Gordon Taub, PhD | Washington State University Everett, School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering
Principal Investigator: Joe Graber, MSME | Everett Community College
As the world looks to seriously curb its greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, electric vehicles are seen as one of the best solutions, with new state incentives set to encourage more drivers to make the switch. Samantha Wohlfeil
Mica is the name applied to a group of minerals that form in layers at once flexible and strong. A longtime staple of the cosmetics industry, mica is known for adding sparkle to makeup products and paints. But it’s also prized in the electronics and automotive worlds due to its ability to transmit electric force without overheating, even under extreme temperatures. NBC News reports from the Mica mines of Madagascar, where child labor and unsafe working conditions are the norm. NBC News
The demand for cobalt continues to grow as companies worldwide keep innovating. Despite the efforts of many organizations to put an end to child labor and unsafe conditions in Congolese cobalt mines, these issues persist. Industry experts expect to see 2020 demand reach 120,000 tons per year. In February 2018, cobalt prices were more than 150 percent higher than the previous year. The Washington Post
Based on an analysis using multiple criteria explained below, 35 minerals or mineral material groups have been identified that are currently (February 2018) considered critical. Draft Critical Mineral List—Summary of Methodology and Background Information—U.S. Geological Survey Technical Input Document in Response to Secretarial Order No. 3359