What CMI Does

What is the problem?

Actual or threatened shortages of essential raw materials create risks for U.S. manufacturing and energy security.  Nascent industries, including the clean energy sector, are particularly vulnerable.

Critical materials (a) provide essential and specialized properties to advanced products or systems, (b) have no easy substitutes, and (c) are subject to supply risk.

Rare earth elements, with essential roles in high-efficiency motors and advanced lighting, are the most prominent of the critical materials today.  Rare earth metals and alloys are not produced in the United States, despite the availability of geologic resources, because the processes required to separate individual rare earths from one another and then convert them to metals and alloys are inefficient, costly, polluting, and potentially damaging to worker health and safety.  The solution is innovation throughout the rare earth supply chain.

Other critical materials include lithium for batteries and tellurium for solar cells.

What is CMI’s mission?

To assure supply chains of materials critical to clean energy technologies—enabling innovation in U.S. manufacturing and enhancing U.S. energy security.

How will CMI secure the supply chains of critical materials?

By developing, demonstrating, and deploying technology (a) to diversify and expand the availability of these materials throughout their supply chains, (b) to reduce wastes by increasing the efficiency of manufacturing and recycling, and (c) to reduce demand by identifying substitutes for critical materials.  In all three areas, the needs of U.S. manufacturing drive CMI’s research agenda.  From the outset, every project has a commercialization plan.

What has CMI accomplished so far?

After only three years of work, CMI has issued 47 invention disclosures, 13 patent applications, two technology licenses, two open-source software packages, and over 80 refereed publications.

Industrial collaborators are working to incorporate these accomplishments in their products and processes, across all three of the areas described above – source diversification, improved stewardship of existing resources, and materials substitution.

What will CMI do next?

Over the next two years CMI will expand and solidify its impact. Specifically, it will:

  • Demonstrate the production of Nd-Fe-B magnets using materials and technologies located entirely within the United States.
  • Develop a commercial product based on the Al-Ce-X casting alloy invented by CMI researchers.
  • Develop a new permanent magnet material that rivals Nd-Fe-B, using reliably available elements.
  • Develop a working, inexpensive, bulk-scale, exchange-coupled spring magnet.
  • Develop a new permanent-magnet motor design with optimized system performance, based on printable magnets.
  • Discover new red and green phosphor candidates suitable for use in LED lamps.
  • Demonstrate hard disk drive disassembly rates exceeding 5,000 per day, to enable the recovery of voice-coil motor magnets for recycling or reuse.
  • Scale up the supercritical fluid process for dissolution, separation of dissolved components, and refinement of separated critical elements, from milligram to kilogram quantities.

Who are the partners in CMI?

Led by the Ames Laboratory, Iowa, CMI consists of scientists and engineers at four national laboratories of the U.S. Department of Energy, seven universities, and nine industrial partners. CMI’s leadership team comes from six of these institutions, and they manage CMI’s geographically dispersed labs as if they were a single organization.

A two-page pdf version is available

updated October 2016