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DOE Announces US$30 Million for Research to Secure Domestic Supply Chain of Critical Elements

March 23, 2021
Critical materials are vital to producing EV batteries, wind turbines, other clean energy technologies.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced up to US$30 million to support scientific research that will ensure American businesses can reliably tap into a domestic supply of critical elements and minerals, such as lithium, cobalt, and nickel, needed to produce clean energy technologies. Currently, the United States is grappling with chronic shortages in the domestic supply of these critical materials, forcing the country to rely on imported materials.

Roughly 35 rare-earth elements, such as platinum, serve as key components to several clean-energy and high-tech applications — magnets in wind turbines, batteries in electric and conventional vehicles, phosphors in energy-efficient lighting and displays, and catalysts for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.

At present, the United States relies on imports from nations such as China and the Democratic Republic of Congo for these critical materials. Imports account for 100% of the nation's supply of 14 of the 35 elements, and more than 50% of 17 others. This leaves clean energy technology production at greater risk of disruption because of trade disputes, natural disasters, or armed conflicts.

"America is in a race against economic competitors like China to own the electric vehicle (EV) market — and the supply chains for critical materials like lithium and cobalt will determine whether we win or lose," said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. "If we want to achieve a 100% carbon-free economy by 2050, we have to create our own supply of these materials, including alternatives here at home in America. And we must scale up new American industries that will create millions of good-paying union jobs to do it."

The DOE's US$30 million investment will bolster existing efforts to increase the availability of critical materials supported by several Department offices, including Energy Efficiency and Renewable EnergyFossil Energy, and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. Specifically, the money will fund research into the fundamental properties of rare-earth and platinum-group elements and the basic chemistry, materials sciences, and geosciences needed to discover substitutes.

Senator Joe Manchin, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, said: "We should not be solely reliant on imports from a handful of countries, some of which have questionable mining practices, for critical minerals and rare-earth elements that are crucial inputs in countless devices and technologies Americans use every day, including many clean energy technologies. This funding gets us closer to our goal of creating a reliable, domestic supply chain, which is important for U.S. national security and American manufacturing and will aid our transition to a clean energy future. I encourage all interested applicants to apply."

National laboratories, universities, industry, and nonprofit organizations may apply for the three-year awards to be selected based on peer review. The Office of Basic Energy Sciences (BES), within the Department's Office of Science, will manage the investment, granting awards both for single investigators and larger teams. Up to US$10 million of the US$30 million in planned funding is contingent on congressional appropriations.

The funding opportunity announcement can be found here.

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