July 23, 2022

Research on Critical Minerals

Critical minerals are vital to US national security and economic development because they serve as the foundation for many advanced technologies. Rare earth elements, lithium, and cobalt, for example, can be found in everything from computers to household items. These minerals are used in renewable energy technologies such as wind turbines, solar panels, and electric vehicles. The global demand for these minerals is expected to increase by 400-4,000 percent over the next several decades as the world transitions to a sustainable energy economy.

Unfortunately, critical minerals production, processing, and refining are limited in the United States. The US government, as well as industry and academia, were compelled to investigate alternative methods of meeting the US demand for critical minerals due to the country’s over-reliance on foreign supplies. Among these technologies is the first extraction of critical minerals from secondary sources such as e-waste and industrial waste streams.

Image Credit: U.S. Geological Survey USGS

Several projects completed successfully over the last decade revealed a high potential for unconventional sources such as acid mine drainage and coal fly ash. Furthermore, numerous conventional and unconventional technologies for the sustainable separation, extraction, and purification of critical elements such as rare earth elements and lithium have been developed and evaluated. With the current rate of progress, it is expected that the United States will begin producing critical elements and products derived from them (such as permanent magnets) in the near future, creating a unique opportunity for high-tech industries in the United States. 

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