Speaker: Robert Jaffe, MIT
Critical Elements and New Energy Technologies
The twin pressures of increasing demand for energy and increasing concern about anthropogenic climate change have stimulated research into new sources of energy and novel ways to harvest, transmit, store, transform or conserve it. At the same time, advances in physics, chemistry, and material science have enabled researchers to identify chemical elements with properties that can be finely tuned to their specific needs and to employ them in new energy-related technologies. Elements that were once laboratory curiosities, like neodymium, tellurium, and terbium, now figure centrally when novel energy systems are discussed. Many of these elements are not at present mined, refined, or traded in large quantities. New technologies can only impact our energy needs, however, if they can be scaled from laboratory, to demonstration, to massive implementation. As a result, some previously unfamiliar elements will be needed in great quantities. Although every element has its unique story, these Energy Critical Elements have many features in common. I will describe the shared characteristics of these elements, their roles in emerging technologies, potential constraints on their availability, and government actions that can help avoid disruptive shortages. Research, both basic and applied, is an essential ingredient in a coherent approach to constraints on critical materials. Ingredients in a coherent research strategy include work on geological deposit modeling, mineral extraction and processing, material characterization and substitution especially focused on earth-abundant materials, materials utilization, recycling technologies, and life cycle analysis. If appropriate, I will briefly summarize the state of relevant legislation under consideration in Congress.