The search to secure the US’s rare earth elements supply, along with geothermal resource R&D, just got a $3-million boost, thanks to the Department of Energy. Credit: Wikipedia
The Department of Energy (DOE) celebrated Valentine’s Day by showing a little love to lithium carbonate, announcing last week $3 million in funding to the research and development of low-to-moderate-temperature geothermal resources in the United States, as well as to support domestic supply of “critical materials,” in particular, lithium and other rare-earth elements.
According to a DOE press release, “By partnering with the geothermal and mineral industries, the Department is working to expand the geographic diversity of clean, renewable geothermal energy beyond the traditional western region of the United States.”
The announcement comes at a time when the call for clean energy sources, including footprint-reducing geothermal sources, is up—and US production and consumption of rare-earth elements are down.
Advancements in the use of the raw-materials in everything from batteries to electronics to energy producing wind turbines have increased demand for rare-earth elements and lithium. Forecasts for the market—particularly the global lithium market, where demand for lithium batteries alone is expected to top 250,000 tons by 2017 (or 60 percent more than what is currently needed)—project tremendous growth.
U.S. Geological Survey statistics, however, show that while worldwide lithium production increased in 2012, America’s consumption of rare-earth imports actually declined, thanks to “sluggish economic conditions and improved material efficiencies.” Over the last 15 years (pdf), the US has come to rely heavily on rare-earth imports, particularly those from China, a global leader in rare-earth element production.
DOE plans to fund up to ten projects through its “Low-Temperature Mineral Recovery Program.” Preliminary “concept papers” are due March 6, 2014. To learn more about the program click here—or check out this webinar, which covers the funding stream in more depth.