A vast array of critical new technologies rely on rare earth metals, a group of elements that are difficult to mine because they are so well dispersed in the earth and often contain radioactive elements such as thorium and uranium.
Over the last 20 years, demand for these elements in the U.S. has increased while domestic supply and production have fallen off. And globally, the supply chain is tightly controlled by just a few countries.
To explore the significant challenges created by this imbalanced supply chain, Gorakh Pawar, a visiting scholar at CISAC, and CISAC Co-Director Rod Ewing edited “Rare Earth Elements in Material Science,” a special theme issue of the MRS Bulletin, a journal of the Materials Research Society.
“With China's rapid rise and the reemergence of Russia as a major power, the global stage is set for multipolar competition to secure the critical materials supply chains and control the rare earth elements (REE) derived high-end products and relevant technologies,” Ewing and Pawar write in the introduction to the issue.
The issue includes six articles that delve into the material science aspects of the rare earth elements supply chain. Researchers from Australia, Germany, Korea and the US contributed articles on mineralogy, separation and extraction, mining economics and the environmental impact of rare earth element mining.
“REE recycling is no longer just a choice, but it has become necessary in a world where resources are constrained,” Pawar and Ewing write.
The MRS Bulletin includes recommendations that the US and other countries can follow to reduce dependence on China for rare earth elements.
The March issue of the MRS Bulletin can be found here.