Around the globe, world leaders are issuing calls to action on the shortage of critical materials, also known as rare earth elements (REE), that impact everything from our cell phones and computer hard drives to military defense capabilities. The United States, the European Union, and Japan have all raised concerns for materials shortages and supply chain risks.
A significant number of university departments and government agencies are approaching this challenge from different perspectives. In Washington State, the Joint Center for Deployment and Research in Earth Abundant Materials (JCDREAM), located at Washington State University at Everett, is flipping the equation and asking first how we find and explore existing alternatives and future alternatives with “earth-abundant materials.”
The JCDREAM Symposium organizes and coordinates, via Zoom, discussions on the future of sustainable materials and how to tackle the challenge. Two recent ones are available in their archive, but the December topic (register by clicking the title link): Advancing Critical, Rare and Abundant Materials Education in Washington State includes materials experts Mel Cossette & Ann Avary. If you miss the December 8 event, a recording will be shared on JCDREAM archive page a few days after the presentation.
From the site: “Cossette and Avary have worked to advance materials science education and workforce development in the state of Washington for decades. They are combining their expertise in these areas to widen the focus to critical and earth-abundant materials to ensure that the next generation of engineers and technicians are prepared to address these issues.”
You can also keep tabs on the JCDREAM Symposium 2021 upcoming topics (dates TBD)
- Battery Materials and Electrification
- Washington State Policy Feature
- National Security and Material Supply Chains
If all this discussion about rare earth elements has you wondering about the full list, you need only revisit the periodic table from your high school or university chemistry class. JCDREAM has a terrific Resource page that includes a “Rare Earths 101” factsheet and a long list of blog posts that can help you refamiliarize yourself with materials science and rare earth elements.
To whet your appetite, according to United States Geological Survey (USGS), there are 17 REEs:
- Lanthanide elements (15 in total – atomic numbers 57 through 71 on the periodic table)
There are also energy critical elements (ECEs) that are used widely in energy production, transmission, and storage. These include elements you will likely recognize: lithium, cobalt, selenium, and silicon, to name just a few.
Source: Center for Sustainable Systems, University of Michigan. 2020. “Critical Materials Factsheet.” Pub. No. CSS14-15. NOTE: This factsheet has some terrific graphics to show which materials are in a critical stage (lack of supply) to non-critical. The American Geosciences Institute provides a great overview: What are rare earth elements, and why are they important? that includes a variety of links to the USGS and other helpful sites.
MatEdU News will update this post with further info and links to various Symposia or other resources in the race to protect the earth’s critical materials.