U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced plans to invest up to $120 million over five years to launch a new Energy Innovation Hub, establishing a multidisciplinary and sustained effort to identify problems and develop solutions across the lifecycle of critical materials.
Rare earth elements and other critical materials have unique chemical and physical characteristics, including magnetic, catalytic and luminescent properties, that are important for a growing number of energy technologies. These critical materials are also at risk for supply disruptions.
The Hub, funded by up to $20 million in Fiscal Year 2012, will work to advance U.S. leadership in energy manufacturing – such as electric vehicles, wind turbines, efficient lighting and others – through research aimed both at having a reliable supply of these rare earths and other critical materials, as well as finding efficiencies and alternatives that reduce the amount we actually need.
“We must ensure America’s entrepreneurs and manufacturers continue to have access to these critical materials so we can compete in the global energy economy,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “As America has done throughout our history to meet a great national challenge, we will pull together a group of talented, creative scientists, engineers and innovators to find the solutions we need for America’s energy security. Our success will be crucial to ensuring we can continue producing the advanced energy technologies that will power our economy long into the future.”
First established in 2010, the Hubs are major integrated research centers, with researchers from many different institutions and technical backgrounds. They are modeled after the strong scientific management characteristics of the Manhattan Project, Lincoln Lab at MIT that developed radar, AT&T Bell Laboratories that developed the transistor and, more recently, the highly successful Bioenergy Research Centers established during the Bush Administration to pioneer advanced techniques in biotechnology, including biofuels.
The new Critical Materials Hub’s research and development will advance innovation at all stages of critical materials science and technology.
The Critical Materials Hub builds on the Department’s Critical Materials Strategy report, which addresses the use of rare earths and other critical materials in clean energy components, products, and processes.
The goal of the Critical Materials Hub will be to reduce U.S. dependence on critical materials and ensure that the deployment of domestic energy technologies is not hindered by future materials supply shortages.
The Hub will address challenges across the entire life of each critical material including mineral processing, manufacture, substitution, efficient use, and end-of-life recycling.
Universities, national laboratories, nonprofit organizations, and private firms are eligible to compete and are encouraged to form partnerships when submitting their proposals. The award selection is expected this fall.
This will be the fifth Energy Innovation Hub established by the Department since 2010. The other Energy Innovation Hubs are:
- The Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, which focuses on advanced research to produce fuels directly from sunlight.
- The Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors, which is seeking to improve nuclear reactors through sophisticated computer-based modeling and simulation.
- The Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster for Energy-Efficient Buildings, which is working to achieve major breakthroughs in energy efficient building design.
- A Batteries and Energy Storage Innovation Hub was also announced earlier this year. The deadline for submitting competitive proposals was this week.