US Department Of Energy Solicits Information On Rare Earth Elements And Other Rare Metals

by Gareth Hatch on May 8, 2010

in News Analysis, Rare Earths

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Thursday of this past week saw an announcement from the US Department of Energy [DoE] of a “Request for Information” [RFI] focused on rare earths elements [REEs] and other metals and materials “used in energy technologies, particularly clean energy components and applications, and energy efficiency technologies“.

The new RFI follows on from the announcement by DoE Assistant Secretary David Sandalow during the TREM’10 meeting in March 2010, of the DoE’s intent to put together a first-of-its-kind strategic plan on this topic. During that meeting, Assistant Secretary Sandalow, who is responsible for policy and international affairs at the DoE, said that the Department would build on work that was already underway in this area at the Department’s national laboratories and elsewhere, by working with colleagues in other US agencies and by soliciting “broad public input“.

The RFI gives examples of technologies about which the DoE is interested in receiving input, such as the use of lanthanum and lithium in batteries,

“neodymium use in permanent magnet motors and compact fluorescent light bulbs, gallium and ytterbium use in photovoltaics, as well as the use of these materials in other clean energy applications.”

The RFI states that the DoE is interested in hearing from

“industry, academia, research laboratories, government agencies, and other stakeholders on issues related to the demand, supply, use, and costs of rare earth metals and other materials used in the energy sector”.

The Department is most interested in REEs, gallium, lithium, cobalt, indium, tellurium and platinum group metals.

Specific categories of requested input on this topic include:

  • Materials demand
  • Materials supply
  • Technology applications and processes
  • Costs and availability
  • Substitutes
  • Recycling
  • Intellectual property

The specific RFI document can be downloaded from here. Respondents have until June 7, 2010 to submit information for the RFI. The DoE makes it clear that no payments will be made for any information submitted.

This is an excellent opportunity for individuals and entities within the rare metals sector to contribute to the future policymaking process within the DoE, which has apparently taken the lead on this issue since the March 2010 announcement by Assistant Secretary Sandalow. One hopes that the DoE will be able to work closely and in a coordinated fashion with the Departments of Defense, Commerce and the Interior on this matter. One also hopes that the DoE and other Departments will look to bolster their permanent staffs with technical experts on these and other topics. The concern with any RFI of this type is the challenge of sifting through responses that may or may not be as objective as required, in order to get an effective set of inputs.

Still, this RFI is a good first step to addressing the issues at hand, and given its substantially more open data sourcing policy than, for example, the approach used for producing the Government Accountability Office report on rare earths, the results should be about as comprehensive a treatise on the subject as we’re likely to get.

[First published at RareMetalBlog.]

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