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Mastery of rare-earth elements vital to America's security

Date:
March 22, 2010
Source:
DOE/Ames Laboratory
Summary:
Used in everything from batteries to electric motors, rare earth elements are vital to America's security, a senior metallurgist at the US Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory, told members of the Investigations & Oversight Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Technology. Yet, the great majority of rare earth mining and production currently takes place in China.

Neodymium-iron-boron permanent magnet.
Credit: Image courtesy of DOE/Ames Laboratory

Karl A. Gschneidner Jr., a senior metallurgist at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory, recently cautioned members of a Congressional panel that "rare-earth research in the USA on mineral extraction, rare-earth separation, processing of the oxides into metallic alloys and other useful forms, substitution, and recycling is virtually zero."

Rare-earth elements are critical components in the great majority of America's high-tech commercial and military products. Their vital role in our nation's economic and national security was underscored by the recent hearing of the Investigations & Oversight Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Technology, which was devoted entirely to the topic.

To optimize the use of rare earths in current and future products, scientists combine rare earths with other elements to create alloys intended for specific purposes. Yet the United States and other nations have ceded much of this alloying knowledge to China, Gschneidner said.

During the hearing, Gschneidner, an acknowledged leader in the field, demonstrated the benefits that added expertise in rare-earth alloying would bring the nation by holding up a neodymium-iron-boron permanent magnet, which he and his colleagues, including Rick Schmidt, principal scientist emeritus, recently created at the Ames Laboratory, using a revolutionary new process that was also developed at the Lab.

However, current methods used to manufacture the magnets produce hazardous byproducts. In contrast, the Ames Lab process eliminates production of these byproducts. Also significant, the Ames Laboratory process has the potential to enable the United States to produce neodymium-iron-boron magnets less expensively.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by DOE/Ames Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

DOE/Ames Laboratory. "Mastery of rare-earth elements vital to America's security." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 March 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100316174212.htm>.
DOE/Ames Laboratory. (2010, March 22). Mastery of rare-earth elements vital to America's security. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100316174212.htm
DOE/Ames Laboratory. "Mastery of rare-earth elements vital to America's security." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100316174212.htm (accessed July 30, 2014).

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