LAKELAND, Fla. – The production of computers, solar panels, smartphones, electric cars, and more all rely on a steady supply of rare earth elements. China currently supplies most of the world’s rare earth elements, but a new Department of Energy grant awarded to Florida Polytechnic University’s Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute (FIPR) aims to change that.
FIPR has received $150,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy for phase one of a project to develop a research plan for the recovery, separation, and purification of rare earth elements uncovered during phosphate processing.
Phase two of the project, if approved, would be funded by a $4 million, three-year grant to put the plan into action.
“We are excited the federal government is continuing to support FIPR’s rare earth element research and we look forward to proving our research in phase one with the hope of securing a more significant award in phase two,” said Dr. Jim Mennie, FIPR’s business director. “We hope with this award to develop a new, U.S.-based source, of rare earth elements.”
Mennie said several other grants were awarded to institutions working to develop methods of producing rare earth elements, including yttrium and neodymium, in a cost-effective way. He said he is optimistic about FIPR securing the larger grant because it is the only entity among those awarded that is using phosphate source material – which is readily available in this area – while all others utilize coal ash as the elements’ source.
“If we are successful, we could satisfy the U.S. demand for many of the elements, particularly yttrium – we could maybe supply the entire world for yttrium,” said Dr. Patrick Zhang, FIPR’s research director of phosphate beneficiation and mining and the grant’s principal investigator.
Phosphate mining is a major industry in Florida, and the process developed by FIPR could make the state an ideal place for this type of rare earth element production, Mennie said. The Mosaic Company produces thousands of tons of the project’s source material each year and will provide it to FIPR for the research.
“The hope is by creating this here, we can alleviate the country’s dependency on China and provide a stable, cost-effective rare earth element supply chain,” Mennie said.
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