The Future of Rare Earth Metals

With the evidence of the need for alternatives to Rare EarthMetals compiling, institutes around the world are working tirelessly to find solutions. One institute here in America has shown particular promise by retrofitting a 3D printer to print metal compounds in the hopes of finding alternatives to the exhaustible materials we depend on. An innovation that could hold the solution to one of the largest problems we face today.

The majority of our modern technology depend on rare earth materials so it is pertinent to find a way to continue these advancements without continuing the ravaging of our natural recourses. The U.S. Department of Energy has spearheaded CMI, the Critical Materials Institute to combat this very issue. CMI is a Department of Energy Innovation Hub, focusing on alternative energy solutions in the age of sustainability. They have Awarded Ames Laboratory with over four and half million dollars to share in grants among the eighteen institutes across the united states that are working together under the CMI to find alternatives and solutions to our dependency on rare earth materials. 

Among many of Ames advancements in the field of rare earth material research is a retrofitted 3D printer.  After acquiring the LENS MR-7, manufactured by Optomec, they customized the printer to print metal alloys from recycled compounds for instant materials research. By combining different metal powders with lasers in an infinite number of compounds the team will be able to quickly assess an alloys potential to replace a rare earth material. Though the experiments are only in their infancy they have already been able to print an inch long rod of stainless steal in 20 seconds out of recycled materials, proving their potential to synthesize a solution.

3D printing holds many advantages to standard manufacturing and as the technology advances, its potential seems almost limitless. It is an additive manufacturing process, only constructing what is necessary, so it is far more efficient then our wasteful process of subtractive manufacturing, harvesting a large amount to use only a small piece.  Also, with the ability to create specific materials, thanks to Ames Lab, means it can potentially replace the entire system of mining and manufacturing.

Once this technology is perfected we will be able to manufacture material specific constructions from recycled recourses, never needing to mine a thing. If we can create easily accessible alloys that can replace our need for rare earth materials the destructive cycle we are stuck in can be reconciled. We currently consume more precious materials from our earth then she can produce. This trend cannot continue and only by using our technology in conscious and efficient ways can we continue to progress without the consequences of our consumption. With the ability to produce our own materials that are compounds of recycled resources, we can solve the huge issue of waste and consumption that plagues our generations in order to leave a cleaner, more sustainable environment for the future.