The United States Department of Energy has granted $120 million toward the creation of the Critical Materials Institute (CMI), which will be responsible for developing new methods of rare earth element production and management. The CMI, led by Ames Laboratory and includes over a dozen research partners, hopes to create technology to avoid supply shortages while also reducing rare earth dependency on China. According to a report by Bloomberg, China provides about 95 percent of the world's rare earth shipments, and recently decreased production limits to conserve the environment and keep their supply in check. The CMI will focus on diversifying the supply of rare earths, develop substitute materials, and improve methods of reusing and recycling materials.
Rare earths include a group of 17 similarly structured elements that are used in the production of phones, disk drives, televisions, and other consumer products, and can also be used to manufacture wind turbines, electric vehicles, and advanced batteries. Dependency on the import of rare earths is the result of insufficient technology and manufacturing facilities, as opposed to lack of raw material — the Mountain Pass mine in California, for example, has one of the largest deposits outside of China. The CMI will help discover new and more efficient ways to tap into the resources, while also decreasing the use of materials that can potentially have supply shortages in the future.