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Iowa’s Research & Development Contributions Strengthen our Critical Elements Supply Chain 

By Sec. Dan Brouillette

Secretary Brouillette at Ames National Lab

The COVID pandemic has reinforced the need to secure all of our critical supply chains. Of utmost importance are commercial and defense usage of critical materials.  The United States must reduce its reliance on foreign-sourced critical materials to ensure reliable economic supply chains, boost American manufacturing, and maintain national security. As I wrote in the Des Moines Register, the Trump Administration and the Department of Energy (DOE) have a plan to do just that.

This week, I saw firsthand how DOE’s National Lab efforts are making that plan a reality. On Wednesday, I toured Ames Laboratory on the campus of Iowa State University with Director Adam Schwartz. As one of our 17 National Labs, Ames is dedicated to researching critical materials, science, and engineering for the benefit of American manufacturing and innovation via its Critical Materials Institute (CMI).

Secretary Brouillette at Ames National Lab

As I discussed with industry leaders on Wednesday, CMI’s work in finding substitutes and recycling methods for critical materials sourced globally is vital to national security and economic stability, particularly as we strengthen our supply chains. Critical materials are used primarily in electronic products like smart phones, TVs, and LED lights, but they are also needed to build satellites, refine crude oil, and generate reliable and renewable energy.

The U.S. depends upon foreign sources for a majority of the critical materials necessary for certain technologies. That’s a dangerous dependency. However, we’re moving away from it thanks to contributions from Ames, which is developing more efficient and more environmentally-friendly techniques for the recovery and reuse of those materials.

Secretary Brouillette at Ames National Lab

The Materials Preparation Center at Ames complements that effort by preparing and characterizing extremely high purity metals and alloys, which can then be handed off to government, university, or private sector clients for further study or use in a variety of applications. Ames Laboratory is THE source for rare earths research.

Another highlight of my trip was meeting with the founders and employees of Iowa’s TdVib, LLC, one of our groundbreaking private partners that recently received a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) award for their work in recycling e-waste. Earlier this year, DOE awarded $53 million in SBIR prizes across the country for small businesses doing innovative work in energy.

Secretary Brouillette at Ames National Lab

America can increase its security and reach new heights of economic growth by strengthening its supply chains. We are proud that Ames Laboratory is taking on research and development that will help us create a robust and diverse avenue for securing critical materials. The incredible work of Ames Laboratory and its CMI should bolster confidence that we will come back stronger than ever, with a more enhanced national security and greater energy independence.