NETL aims for critical materials supply chain research centres

July 27, 2022

The National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), a US-based national laboratory under the country’s Department of Energy Office of Fossil Energy, is working to develop critical mineral supply chains with an approach which is intended to help disadvantaged communities become critical contributors in the nation’s low-carbon energy future.

NETL is currently focused on developing the technology to unlock unconventional sources of critical minerals, including overlooked resources such as waste rock, coal ash and acid mine waters.

The lab has coordinated regional teams of researchers across the country through the Carbon Ore, Rare Earth, and Critical Minerals (CORE-CM) Initiative for US Basins, which is intended to take a step toward comprehensive resource assessment technologies and providing a beachhead for the local development of supply chains near unconventional mineral resources.

“We hope to unite complementary approaches and research capabilities with the long-term goal to create dedicated supply chain research centres that will continue to prove-out domestic production techniques for CMs,” stated Burt Thomas, technical portfolio lead for critical minerals at NETL. “These domestic sources will provide jobs that can’t be off-shored in American communities that need investment. Many of these jobs will be in the nation’s historic mining and power communities and will incentivise new cleanup initiatives at legacy mining sites.”

The research in NETL’s portfolio are multi-year efforts intended to catalyse regional economic growth and accelerate the development of upstream and midstream critical mineral supply chain technologies. These efforts are finding unconventional mineral resources in the country and impacting the downstream manufacturing of high-value, non-fuel, carbon-based products.

In addition to finding economic value in US resources, these projects will promote the environmental and justice initiatives that are a foundation for long-term social license to operate.  CORE-CM Initiatives and the NETL team are committed to ensuring best practices for environmental health and safety associated with any proposed work.

“This challenge is something the US is up for. Research facilities like the proposed research centres at NETL will help scientists, engineers, and commercial partners in these communities understand the pathways to commercialise their resources,” Thomas continued. “If we succeed, the same communities that kept the lights on for all of us by mining coal may yet be responsible for keeping the lights on by supplying the nation’s magnets, batteries, and electronic components.  We need all-hands-on-deck to protect our future.”

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