Penn State, Colorado School of Mines will support US need for critical minerals

Periodic table showing the seventeen rare earth elements that are part of the group of critical minerals significant to domestic and national security, energy and daily consumer products. Credit: U.S. Department of EnergyAll Rights Reserved.

Penn State has entered a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Colorado School of Mines to establish a collaboration designed to be responsive in supporting the United States’ need for critical minerals.

Minerals are part of virtually every product manufactured in the modern global economy. Critical minerals are those with exceptional economic importance and are found in most electronics today. New technologies are increasingly reliant on specific critical minerals not widely used a few decades ago. Many of these critical minerals are imported and their supply chain is at risk. Their limited availability can have significant consequences on the economic and national security of the United States.

Through the MOU, the two universities will partner on research to support U.S. producers and consumers of critical mineral commodities and help advance the country’s manufacturing sector while developing a well-trained workforce to meet the demands on U.S.-sourced critical minerals.

“Both schools are committed to developing new innovations to enable a complete U.S. capability for critical minerals, from basic science to supply chain through to production,” said Lora Weiss, Penn State’s senior vice president for research. “Together we span from Appalachia to the Rockies and collectively we have the technical base and established relationships with stakeholders to realize the full potential value of our natural resources. Our combined team is well positioned to be extremely responsive to the country’s critical minerals needs.”

There are 35 minerals or mineral material groups that are currently considered critical. The list includes the rare earth element group, a set of 17 metals necessary for devices that people use every day like rechargeable batteries, cellphones and magnets.

“Penn State launched the Center for Critical Minerals in spring 2019 to leverage Penn State’s existing faculty, facilities and research strengths in an effort to make the University the go-to resource for critical minerals research and technical support for industry,” said Lee Kump, John Leone Dean in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. “This partnership with Mines, a top mineral resources school, strengthens that leadership position and opens up strategic areas for collaboration.”

The U.S. imports nearly 100% of its needed rare earth elements, with China producing about 85% of the world supply.

“Our immediate plan is to develop relationships with the industries that are leading the effort to produce rare critical elements domestically,” said Sarma Pisupati, professor of energy and mineral engineering and chemical engineering. “Our goal to become the backbone for research for these industries to support them in solving the nation's dependence on importing critical minerals.”

As part of the agreement the universities specifically will explore:

  • Research opportunities
  • Collaborative professional development
  • Industrial partnerships with graduate and undergraduate internships
  • Establishment of degree and/or certificate partnerships
  • Collaborative courses, lectures, conferences, symposia
  • Reciprocal exchange of students, faculty

“Industry wants a qualified and well-trained workforce,” said Pisupati, who also directs Penn State’s Center for Critical Minerals. “They are interested in providing internships for our students so that they understand the workings of the industry and hiring them when they graduate.”

Last Updated November 09, 2020