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In today’s energy economy, many advanced technologies rely on high performing materials with unique chemical and physical properties. In some cases, these materials are at risk of supply disruption due to a small global market, lack of supply diversity, geopolitical risks, or other factors. In 2010 and 2011, the Department of Energy (DOE) issued two Critical Materials Strategy reports that examined the importance to clean energy and the risk of supply disruption of materials used in wind turbines, photovoltaic (PV) thin films, electric vehicles, and lighting in the short and medium term. The 2011 report identified five materials as critical in the medium term.
Material criticality is dynamic, changing with shifting technology trends, global markets, policies, and regulations. This year, DOE’s Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis (EPSA) is planning an update to its previous analysis to reflect market changes and examine more materials and energy technologies. To inform this work, DOE has released a Request for Information (RFI) soliciting information on rare earth metals, platinum group metals, and other materials used in energy technologies and their manufacturing processes. In addition to wind turbines, PVs, electric vehicles, and efficient lighting, DOE is also collecting information on the material implications of concentrated solar power, hydropower, the electric grid, fuel cells, natural gas generators, and nuclear technologies.
The 2010 and 2011 reports articulated a strategy to proactively address material criticality based on three pillars: 1) diversifying global supply chains to mitigate supply risk; 2) developing material and technology substitutes; and 3) promoting recycling, reuse, and more efficient use to significantly lower global demand. Following the reports, the Department made significant Research & Development (R&D) investment to address these strategic pillars, including the establishment of the Critical Materials Institute (CMI). Led by Ames Laboratories, CMI is a five-year investment of up to $120 million to improve supply, develop substitutes, and improve efficient use and recycling of critical materials for clean energy applications. Through its first 2.5 years of operations, Critical Materials Institute (CMI) researchers have licensed one technology to industry and filed 38 invention disclosures and 15 patent applications.
DOE is also a co-chair of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) Subcommittee on Critical and Strategic Mineral Supply Chains. The Subcommittee coordinates across the federal government on assessing mineral criticality; reviewing relevant domestic and global policies affecting the supply of critical minerals; enhancing data collection and analysis; identifying research, development, and education opportunities; and pursuing international collaboration.
The next phase of DOE’s analysis will build on the previous DOE reports and the work of the NSTC subcommittee. Understanding the factors affecting supply and demand, opportunities for developing substitutes, and the potential for more efficient use are of strong interest to DOE and the focus of this RFI. Topics of interest include energy technology and component material intensity, market projections, technology transitions, primary production, supply chains, and recycling. Respondents are also encouraged to provide additional information that is relevant to assessing material criticality in the energy sector.