• A country's wealth growth is indicated by slowing of metal use – or does it?

    It is widely believed that a nation’s metal use plateaus when that country’s gross domestic product (GDP) reaches a threshold of $15,000 per person; with rising affluence, the theory goes, nations achieve a new level of resource efficiency. This might not be the case, a new study finds.

  • Metal-eating microbes are cost-effective for recycling rare earth elements

    Today’s high-tech devices usually contain components made of rare earth elements (REEs), a class of metallic elements including neodymium and dysprosium. Despite this demand, and despite the fact that REEs are relatively common in the earth’s crust, REEs are difficult to obtain, and the U.S. currently does not produce a domestic supply. This scarcity of domestic REEs leaves manufacturers of everything from cellphones and computers to wind turbines and telescope lenses vulnerable to supply disruptions. have developed an economical way to recycle REEs using a bacterium called Gluconobacter oxydans.

  • U.S. seeks to boost domestic production of 35 critical minerals

    The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) last week announced it was seeking public comment by 19 March 2018 on a draft list of minerals considered critical to the economic and national security of the United States. The draft list of minerals that DOI published last week as critical to the United States includes thirty-five mineral commodities. A “critical mineral” is a mineral identified to be a non-fuel mineral or mineral material essential to the economic and national security of the United States, the supply chain of which is vulnerable to disruption, and that serves an essential function in the manufacturing of a product, the absence of which would have significant consequences for the economy or national security.

  • Meet the new “renewable superpowers”: nations that boss the materials used for wind and solar

    Imagine a world where every country has not only complied with the Paris climate agreement but has moved away from fossil fuels entirely. How would such a change affect global politics? The twentieth century was dominated by coal, oil and natural gas, but a shift to zero-emission energy generation and transport means a new set of elements will become key. Solar energy, for instance, still primarily uses silicon technology, for which the major raw material is the rock quartzite. Lithium represents the key limiting resource for most batteries – while rare earth metals, in particular “lanthanides” such as neodymium, are required for the magnets in wind turbine generators. Copper is the conductor of choice for wind power, being used in the generator windings, power cables, transformers and inverters. In considering this future it is necessary to understand who wins and loses by a switch from carbon to silicon, copper, lithium, and rare earth metals.

  • Super wood stronger than most metals

    Engineers have found a way to make wood more than ten times stronger and tougher than before, creating a natural substance that is stronger than many titanium alloys. “This new way to treat wood makes it twelve times stronger than natural wood and ten times tougher,” said one researcher. “This could be a competitor to steel or even titanium alloys, it is so strong and durable. It’s also comparable to carbon fiber, but much less expensive.”

  • Salvage yard as a source for rare-earth elements

    As the United States seeks a stable domestic supply of rare-earth elements – essential to high-tech instruments and electronics – researchers are looking to the salvage yard to see what might be lurking under the hoods and in the doors of light-duty cars and trucks. Rare-earth elements (REEs) are not scarce but scattered, meaning they typically can’t be found in economically exploitable concentrations. They have become increasingly sought after, however, since they are used in high-strength magnets, electric motors, and consumer goods like laptops, tablets and cellphones. A single smartphone can contain nine rare-earth elements alone.

  • U.S. mines produced an estimated $75.2 billion in minerals in 2017

    U.S. mines produced an estimated $75.2 billion of raw mineral materials in 2017 – a 6 percent increase over 2016 – the U.S. Geological Survey announced last week in its annual Mineral Commodity Summaries. The report from the USGS National Minerals Information Center is the earliest comprehensive source of 2017 mineral production data for the world. It includes statistics on more than 90 mineral commodities that are important to the U.S. economy and national security. It also identifies events, trends and issues in the domestic and international minerals industries. This report covers the full range of nonfuel minerals monitored by the center, not just critical minerals.

  • Using fungi for self-healing concrete to fix bridges

    America’s crumbling infrastructure has been a topic of ongoing discussion in political debates and campaign rallies. The problem of aging bridges and increasingly dangerous roads is one that has been well documented and there seems to be a consensus from both democrats and republicans that something must be done. Researchers propose using fungi for self-healing concrete — a low-cost, pollution-free, and sustainable approach to shoring up U.S. infrastructure.

  • The geology and resources of 23 minerals critical for the United States

    It would be no exaggeration to say that without minerals, no aspect of our daily lives would be possible. From the high-tech devices we use to access the information superhighway to the cars and trucks we use to drive the freeways, from the urban jungle to rural farms, every aspect of our lives relies on minerals. Thus, access to sufficient supplies of these minerals is a crucial part of keeping our economy and our security running. In a new collection of articles, USGS geologists provide the latest on the geology and resources of twenty-three mineral commodities deemed critical to the economy and security of the United States.

  • For sustainable wooden skyscrapers, the sky’s the limit

    Australia will soon hold the record for the world’s tallest timber office building, built in Brisbane. With the help of the University of Queensland’s new research hub — Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Timber Hub — wooden skyscrapers could become the norm. “This Hub represents an opportunity to transform not just our ability to design and construct healthy, resilient, sustainable tall timber buildings; but to engage and transform the entire industry – from the sustainable forests that provide the raw timber, right through to assembling the building safely on site,” said the Hub director.

  • “Shape memory” metals for earthquake-resistant construction

    Researchers have found an economical way to improve the properties of some “shape memory” metals, known for their ability to return to their original shape after being deformed. The method could make way for the mass production of these improved metals for a variety of applications, including earthquake-resistant construction materials.

  • Using metal-digesting microbes to recycle electronics

    If you have never heard of neodymium and dysprosium, you are probably not alone. But chances are, you and nearly every other working-age adult in the United States has a small amount of these metals in your pocket. This is because these so-called “rare earth elements” are key components for cellular phones, among many other high-tech devices. The problem with rare earth elements, as their name suggests, is that they are not often found in economically exploitable ore deposits. They are also very difficult to recycle from, say, used cellphones.

  • Magnets manufactured entirely from U.S.-sourced rare earths

    Rare-earth magnets are used in a wide and ever-increasing number of modern technologies, and the ability to produce them domestically could have broad positive impact on national economy and security. The Critical Materials Institute, a U.S. Department of Energy Innovation Hub, has fabricated magnets made entirely of domestically sourced and refined rare-earth metals.

  • Updating a nearly 100-year-old law could shore up U.S. helium supply

    Helium is essential for MRIs, the fiber optics that deliver images to our TVs, scientific research, and of course, party balloons. In the past decade, helium prices have sky-rocketed due to supply shortages. But if small updates are made to an old law, the United States could boost its domestic helium output and help keep critical medical tests and electronics running.

  • 20-story earthquake-safe buildings made from wood

    Engineering researchers are putting a two-story wooden structure through a series of powerful earthquake simulations, using a lab shake table. The goal is to gather the data required to design wood buildings as tall as twenty stories that do not suffer significant damage during large earthquakes.