New Mexico Tech awarded $2.7 million grant to Study Rare Earth Elements

sept 22, 2021

NMT scientists to collaborate with co-awardees Los Alamos National Laboratories and Indiana University Bloomington for the study.

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SOCORRO, N.M. - New Mexico Tech is pleased to announce that it has been awarded a $2.7 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to study the fundamental behavior of rare earth elements (REE) in geologic systems. The primary investigators for the grant are NMT scientists who will collaborate with co-awardees Los Alamos National Laboratories and Indiana University Bloomington for the study. The grant is $1.8M plus $900k going to LANL directly, for a total of $2.7M.

NMT Vice President for Research Dr. Van Romero said this grant aligns perfectly with the institution: “Our university was founded to provide the materials needed to industrialize the nation. Now we’re working to provide the materials not only needed to advance the high-tech and green energy industries, but also for our national security as well.”

REE are essential materials for the high-tech and green energy industries (e.g., magnets for wind turbines, phosphors in lights, etc.), and Mountain Pass in California is currently the only mined source for REE in the U.S. with a few other exploration projects underway. This grant will fund the exploration of potential critical mineral deposits in order to more accurately predict how and where these deposits form.

The research team assembled for the proposed work is unique because it includes experts in the geochemistry of ore deposits, physical chemistry, experimental and theoretical geochemistry, and ab initio molecular dynamic (AIMD) modeling, which permits addressing key aspects to understanding critical elements from the laboratory to geologic systems. 

The major result of the project will be the most comprehensive high temperature-pressure REE experimental and thermodynamic database that will be compatible with widely used geochemical modeling programs, which is directly applicable to the exploration, extraction and separation of REE in geologic systems. 

The long-term goal of this project is to form a U.S. geoscience critical minerals experimental – thermodynamic research hub between New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Indiana University Bloomington for studying the high temperature-pressure chemical complexation and coordination behavior of critical metals and their role in the enrichment processes in the Earth’s crust. This research hub addresses the ten-year strategic plan of DOE on Critical Minerals and Materials by effectively fostering scientific discovery and expertise in the study of critical mineral deposits. The project will also support and train three PhD students and three Postdoctoral Fellows.

- NMT -