BARTOW, Fla. — The growth of high-tech industries has created a demand in rare earth elements. The United States government is now considering it a national priority to increase the supply.
We can't see rare earth elements with the naked eye, but the production of computers, smartphones, electric vehicles, solar panels, fighter jets and much more all rely on a steady supply of it.
“Right now, the U.S. relies mostly on China for this critical element. We don’t have a secure domestic source for these materials,” FIPR’s research director of phosphate beneficiation and mining Dr. Patrick Zhang said.
Researchers at Florida Polytechnic University's Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute (FIPR), are working to build a more robust supply of rare earth elements in the U.S.
“Also, maintain an inventory so we reduce and eliminate the United States reliance on these critical materials from foreign sources,” FIPR’s business director Dr. Jim Mennie said.
A $150,000 grant from the Department of Energy allows the team to study and extract rare earth elements from phosphate byproducts taken from the nearby Mosaic Company.
“We don't have a consistent domestic supply, the government has recognized that," Mennie said. "They’ve actually issued a national security directive and that’s why there is available funding from a variety of sources to help with this research."
The sample is turned into a solution by burning off acids and filtering. Once all of this happens, it goes into a machine to collect data to see if the rare earth elements were extracted successfully.
Researchers are hoping to receive a second $4 million grant, to support Phase two of the project, to build a demonstration plant.