APS Report: Supply of Critical Elements Key to New Energy Technologies

By Michael Lucibella

Photo by Mary Catherine Adams/APS

Robert Jaffe of MIT(left) answers a question about energy-critical elements during a press conference held Feb. 18 as part of the AAAS annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Another member of the report committee,Thomas E. Graedel of Yale (right), also answered questions.

Energy Critical Elements Report

Energy Critical Elements Report coverEnergy Critical Elements: Securing Materials for Emerging Technologies describes a plan to secure future supplies of rare earths and other elements critical to U.S energy independence.
Gray arrow Energy Critical Elements Report Format - PDF

The U.S. government needs to do more to secure supply lines of uncommon elements critical to the nation’s future energy technologies, according to a new study, which highlighted elements that are not currently produced in large quantities, but play major roles in emerging energy production and transmission technology. The report, Energy Critical Elements: Securing Materials for Emerging Technologies was conducted by APS and the Materials Research Society (MRS).

“We’re trying to adapt to a world where energy independence is an increasingly important political concern. Getting away from fossil fuels and carbon use is another strong priority. The technology that has been developed to lead us away from these dependencies relies on these unusual chemical elements,” said Robert Jaffe, a physicist at MIT and chair of the committee that wrote the report.

The report recommended that the federal government, spearheaded by the Office of Science and Technology Policy, do more to collect and disseminate information on the supply chain of hard-to-acquire “energy critical elements” and support more research into their production and reprocessing. The report said also, however, that, except for helium, it was not economically practicable to maintain stockpiles of energy critical elements.

Most of the recommendations in the report have been included in bills introduced by Sen. Mark Udall (Colorado) and Rep. Randy Hultgren (14th- Ill.) Democrats and Republicans have embraced the report.  Previous bills have addressed energy critical elements, but the APS-MRS report includes new recommendations, emphasizing information sharing, research and recycling, rather than past approaches like mining and stockpiling.

“We really feel that this is not a partisan issue. The main recommendations don’t bear the label of being either liberal or conservative. They typically deal with well established roles of the government like gathering and disseminating information,” Jaffe said, adding also that all of the proposals would not cost the federal government additional money.”

All together, the study identified 29 elements critical to emerging energy technologies that are rare, difficult to mine or unavailable in the United States. Examples of such elements are indium, tellurium and germanium.

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