Page 21

mar13_2013

kothen, G.D. Mohr, and T.A. Ramanarayanan, International Journal of Applied Ceramic Technology, doi:10.1111/j.1744- 7402.2012.02848.x. • “Ceramic Dusting Corrosion of Yttria-Stabilized Zirconia in Ultra- High-Temperature Reverse-Flow Pyrolysis Reactors,” by C.M. Chun, S. Desai, F. Hershkowitz, and T.A. Ramanarayanan, Journal of the American Ceramic Society, doi:10.1111/jace.12035. n New Critical Materials Hub to take broad approach to rare earths, other strategic materials The launch of the DOE’s $120 million Critical Materials Institute (nee “Hub”), the fifth energy innovationoriented “integrated research center” initiated by the Obama administration, appears to be a balanced approach to the complex issue of securing for the United States adequate supplies of unique raw materials that are crucial to clean energy applications, electronics, and other advanced applications. “Balanced,” here, means an approach that appreciates that there are many dynamic forces that affect the certainty– uncertainty of the supplies of, for example, rare-earth elements. Besides science and engineering issues, these forces include geology, environmental considerations, and mining technology; geopolitics, economics, and business considerations; and educational planning. In other words, it is an approach that understands that neither bashing China nor a rush to mine in the US are, by themselves, realistic long-term strategies. Although the official announcement of the creation of the five-year CMI project was made recently, the concept of such a hub goes back many months. In fact, the DOE has been actively engaging the science and business communities for some time to discuss missions for such a hub and who should best lead it. As it turned out, the DOE felt its Ames Laboratory is in the best position to lead what is meant to be a broad collaborative effort that encompasses federal and private labs, universities, and private industry. In describing this hub, the DOE sketches out four “focus areas” or missions: develop substitutes, improve reuse and recycling, conduct crosscutting research, and diversify supply. (Credit: Ames Laboratory.) Rare-earth elements (clockwise from yellow powder): cerium oxide, lutetium, terbium oxide (brown powder), praseodymium fluoride (green crystal), neodymium oxide (blue powder), samarium (cylinder) scandium (button) and dysprosium (flat metal). As the administration’s point man on the Materials Genome Initiative, Cyrus Wadia, puts it, the purpose of the CMI is “to find solutions that can be applied at all stages of a material’s “life cycle”—from new ways to access it at the source, to better ways to recycle and reuse it after it has served its primary functions.” Alex King, director of the Ames Lab and designated leader of the CMI effort, describes the one particular goal slightly differently. Besides diversifying supplies and developing substitute materials and tools for recycling, King says the fourth mission is “forecasting.” He describes the latter as “trying to figure out what materials might become critical in the future” and acknowledges that such forecasting is “important, but a little bit different for a national lab.” The devil, of course, is in the details. For example, in their article that appeared in the April 2012 Bulletin (“Issues of scarce materials in the United States”), Stephen Freiman and Lynnette Madsen laid out a comprehensive critical materials agenda. It is not clear (yet) how well the 17 goals they delineated match up with the directions charted for the CMI. Some, such as Freiman’s and Madsen’s call to “continue trade agreements with foreign sources to minimize supply disruption risk,” are appropriately outside the scope of CMI. Others, such as their suggestions to “support efforts to collect data on sources of critical elements” and “improve acquisition data exchange and analysis mechanisms” will be addressed by CMI participants, one hopes. But, given that a national critical materials strategy also must encapsulate trade and policy issues, it is only fair that CMI be seen as one crucial part of such a strategy, and not a panacea for US interests. Unfortunately, the trade and policy issues seem to be on the back burner while other political battles are being fought. Another vital issue Freiman and Madsen raise is getting too little attention: workforce development and the lack of trained mining and mineral processing personnel, specialists in geology and other geosciences, and specialists in related sciences and engineering fields that are trained in sustainability, beneficiation, processing, and recycling. Even if not directly, the CMI likely will provide some new impetus for making progress on this topic. In summary, the new CMI seems to be a multidimensional step in the right direction, but the nation’s large critical materials strategy cannot be solved by technocracy alone. It is likely that neither the White House nor Congress are oblivious to this, and interagency task forces have been meeting. The nation needs to have the CMI be an inspiring starting point and not an orphan in the US’ strategic material plans. n American Ceramic Society Bulletin, Vol. 92, No. 2 | www.ceramics.org 19


mar13_2013
To see the actual publication please follow the link above