Materials

  • Rare earth materialsRecycling valuable rare earth metals from old electronics

    Rare earth metals are valuable ingredients in a variety of modern technologies and are found in cell phones, hard disk drives in computers, and other consumer electronics, which are frequently discarded for newer and more up-to-date versions. U.S. consumers disposed of 3.4 million tons of electronics waste in 2012. Continuously increasing global demand for new consumer electronics in turn drives demand for rare-earth metals, which are difficult and costly to mine. Scientists have developed a two-step recovery process that makes recycling rare earth metals easier and more cost-effective.

  • Rare earth materialsOvercoming problems, risks associated with rare earth metals

    Numerous metallic elements – called rare earth materials — are regarded as critical: they play an ever more important role in future technologies, but there is a high risk of supply bottlenecks. Small and medium-sized companies are also affected by this, and they are often not sure which of these materials they are dependent on. A recent event at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA) aimed to demonstrate ways in which industry and the research community can counter supply risks and the consequence of the ever greater use of these raw materials.

  • Infrastructure protectionConcrete solutions to aging, structurally deficient bridges

    According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), the state leads the nation in the number of bridges classified as “structurally deficient.” This is probably not a surprise to most residents who have done any driving throughout the commonwealth. The state’s more than 25,000 state-owned bridges are aging — their average age is over fifty years — and in need of repair. Penn State civil engineering faculty are researching methods for enhancing the maintenance and durability of civil infrastructure — including anything made of concrete, from bridges to roads to buildings.

  • Invisibility cloakInvisibility cloak closer to reality: Concealing military airplanes, and even people

    Since the beginning of recorded time, humans have used materials found in nature to improve their lot. Since the turn of this century, scientists have studied metamaterials, artificial materials engineered to bend electromagnetic, acoustic, and other types of waves in ways not possible in nature. Now, Hao Xin, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Arizona, has made a discovery with these synthetic materials that may take engineers one step closer to building microscopes with superlenses that see molecular-level details, or shields that conceal military airplanes and even people.

  • Rare earth materialsIonic liquids hold promise for better rare-earth materials processing

    Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory and Critical Materials Institute are harnessing the promising qualities of ionic liquids, salts in a liquid state, to optimize processes for critical materials. Ionic liquids have a lot of useful qualities, and these liquids can be engineered with specific functions in mind. One such function is improving the rare-earth separation process, either for extracting rare earths from ore or recycling rare earths from discarded magnets.

  • InfrastructureMicro-capsules and bacteria used in self-healing concrete

    Researchers are aiming to develop a novel self-healing concrete that uses an inbuilt immune system to close its own wounds and prevent deterioration. Self-healing concrete could vastly increase the life of concrete structures, and would remove the need for repairs, reducing the lifetime cost of a structure by up to 50 percent. Over seven per cent of the world’s CO2 emissions are caused by cement production, so reducing the amount required by extending the lifetime of structures and removing the need for repairs will have a significant environmental impact.

  • Invisibility cloakInvisibility cloaks, stealth technology a step closer

    It may seem easy in Hollywood movies, but is hard to create invisibility cloaks in real life because no material in nature has the properties necessary to bend light in such a way. Scientists have managed to create artificial nanostructures that can do the job, called metamaterials. The challenge, however, has been making enough of the material to turn science fiction into a practical reality.

  • Rare earth mineralsChina's share of rare earths minerals declining amid falling demand

    China still dominates the world’s rare earth elements market, but its share in global production has been steadily decreasing in recent years. A new study which shows a dramatic decline in these minerals’ prices has shaken he industry. In 2013, China accounted for 92.1 percent of high-tech rare earth oxides produced in the world. The percentage is still high, but it is a decline from 2010, when China accounted for 97.6 percent of global production of the mineral and fell to 95.1 percent in 2011.

  • MineralsValue of U.S. mineral production decreased in 2013

    Last year, the estimated value of mineral production in the United States was $74.3 billion, a slight decrease from $75.8 billion in 2012. According to the U.S. Geological Survey’s annual Mineral Commodity Summaries 2014 report, the 2013 decrease follows three consecutive years of increases. Net U.S. exports of mineral raw materials and old scrap contributed an additional $15.8 billion to the U.S. economy.

  • Infrastructure protectionExamining fire safety concerns raised by green buildings

    In 2012, the “Fire Safety Challenges of Green Buildings” report assembled a list of seventy-eight green building features and construction elements that could have implications for fire safety. The authors then derived a list of potential hazards associated with the features and elements, including greater flammability, faster burn rate, and increased hindrance to firefighters, as compared with conventional construction. A 3-year project, funded with a $1 million grant from DHS, will enable the further exploration of some of the potential risks and hazards identified in the 2012 report.

  • Rare Earth materialsResearchers tackle rare Earth materials shortage

    The demand for rare Earth materials is growing much faster than production. Rare Earth metals do occur in the earth’s crust, but not in sufficiently high concentrations. This is why only one country — China — has so far been supplying the entire world with these elements. In recent years, however, China has begun to restrict its export of these materials. European research organizations have teamed up to address growing rare Earth materials by examining a more focused approach to recycling scrap.

  • Rare Earth materialsThe entertainment industry understands the rare Earth crisis, why doesn’t everybody else?

    By Stevens C. Berry

    U.S. dependence on rare earths imports substantially exceeds our dependence on imported petroleum. In 2011, the United States imported 45 percent of the petroleum we consumed, but we imported 100 percent of the rare earth materials we consumed that same year — and rare earths are far more essential to a wider variety of industries than petroleum is. China controls the production, refining, and processing of over 95 percent of the world’s rare earth elements despite only controlling about half of the world’s rare earth resources. In the 1980s, there were approximately 25,000 American rare earth-related jobs; now we barely have 1,500. The United States must take action now to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of rare earth materials and bring back jobs.

  • EarthquakesQuake-vulnerable concrete buildings in Los Angeles area identified

    Researchers have identified nonductile concrete buildings constructed before roughly 1980 in the Los Angeles area. This category of buildings is known from experience in previous earthquakes to have the potential for catastrophic collapse during strong earthquakes. Nonductile concrete buildings were a prevalent construction type in seismically active zones of the United States before the enforcement of codes for ductile concrete which were introduced in the mid-1970s. A companion study estimates that approximately 17,000 nonductile reinforced concrete buildings are located in the most highly seismic areas of California. More than seventy-five million Americans in thirty-nine states live in towns and cities at risk for earthquake devastation.

  • Fire resistanceCarbon nanotubes improve flame-resistant coating

    Using an approach akin to assembling a club sandwich at the nanoscale, researchers have succeeded in crafting a uniform, multi-walled carbon-nanotube-based coating that greatly reduces the flammability of foam commonly used in upholstered furniture and other soft furnishings. In tests, the flammability of the nanotube-coated polyurethane foam was reduced 35 percent compared with untreated foam. As important, the coating prevented melting and pooling of the foam, which generates additional flames that are a major contributor to the spread of fires.

  • MaterialsSupercomputers help in search for “cheapium”

    In the search for cheaper materials that mimic their purer, more expensive counterparts, researchers are abandoning hunches and intuition for theoretical models and pure computing power. In a new study, researchers used computational methods to identify dozens of platinum-group alloys that were previously unknown to science but could prove beneficial in a wide range of applications.