The World Trade Organization's (WTO) investigation into China's rare earth export policies has brought a traditionally “undercover” sector into the global media spotlight.
Over the past week the rare earth elements (REEs) market has been a hive of activity with news that surging prices and supply constraints had led to a meeting of organizations and scientists hoping to share their progress on developing more affordable rare earth alternatives.
Mark Johnson, program director at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), recently told National Geographic that his team's objective is "inventing our way around any critical dependence on rare-earth materials.”
ARPA-E was set up to fund transformational energy innovation in the US, and was one of the participants in a trilateral EU-Japan-US conference focused on research into REE alternatives that took place in Tokyo last week.
While some argue that the WTO's investigation into quotas will move forward too slowly, others are forecasting that scientists might very well hit breakthroughs that will circumvent China's REE market and win greater rare earth metal independence for their respective countries.
An example of such progress is already underway at the University of Delaware, where Professor George C. Hadjipanayis, who co-invented the strongest rare earth magnet 30 years ago, is leading a team of scientists in an ARPA-E project to create magnets that are less dependent on REEs.
Hadjipanayis is attempting to create a magnet that has more than twice the strength of the neodymium iron boron (NdFeB) magnet he invented, and 30 to 40 percent less rare earth metal than current permanent magnets have, by mixing a rare earth metal with a non-rare-earth magnetic metal at nano-scale.
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