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US $20 million research grant to explore supply options for rare earth element

The US designated $20 million for basic research aimed at identifying a stable supply of so-called rare earths that are crucial for electronics embedded in devices ranging from cell phones to aircraft, the Energy Department said in a press release on Tuesday.

“Rare earth elements play an indispensable role in materials needed for today’s advanced technologies and are essential to a functioning American economy,” the release said. “This fundamental research is aimed at both improving current availability and supply of these elements and finding promising alternative materials.”
The release made no mention of China, the dominant global supplier of rare earths with names such as scandium, lithium, cobalt, graphite, and manganese.

The United States and other developed nations are looking to diversify their supply chains, given recent trade tensions with China and occasional threats from Beijing to cut off supplies, according to media reports.

The Energy Department-funded research will focus on improving the efficiency of both the use of the elements and their extraction from geological and recycled sources. It will also seek to reduce the reliance on rare earth elements by discovering substitute materials with similar or even enhanced properties, the release said.

The effort is closely aligned with the “Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals” issued by the Commerce Department in 2019 that calls on the nation to advance transformational research, development, and deployment across the critical mineral supply chain, the release added.

The United States, Canada and Australia have multiple deposits of rare earths that have yet to be developed at a level that can compete with China, according to US government officials.

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