• China raises threat of rare-Earths cutoff to U.S.

    With a simple visit to an obscure factory on Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping has raised the specter that China could potentially cut off supplies of critical materials needed by huge swaths of the U.S. economy, underscoring growing concerns that large-scale economic integration is boomeranging and becoming a geopolitical weapon. Keith Johnson and  Elias Groll write in Foreign Policy that Beijing could slam every corner of the American economy, from oil refineries to wind turbines to jet engines, by banning exports of crucial minerals.

  • Better earthquake protection for buildings

    Researchers examine how buildings with externally bonded fiber-reinforced polymer composite retrofits withstood the 30 November 2018 magnitude 7.1 earthquake in Alaska. By assessing how these buildings held up, the researchers hope to help engineers construct buildings that stand up to natural disasters.

  • A Seattle quake may cause more damage than expected to reinforced concrete

    Using ground motions generated for a range of simulated magnitude 9 earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest, researchers are testing how well reinforced concrete walls might stand up under such seismic events. The walls may not fare so well, especially within the city of Seattle, the researchers say.

  • “Metamaterials” may mitigate earthquake damage

    In the past decade scientists have been experimenting with metamaterials, artificial materials designed with periodic internal structures to give them properties not found in natural materials. Some of these materials can control waves propagating through them, filtering sound or deflecting light so that an object appears “cloaked” or invisible, for instance. Could this same principle be applied to controlling seismic waves?

  • Detecting rare metals used in smartphones

    A more efficient and cost-effective way to detect lanthanides, the rare earth metals used in smartphones and other technologies, could be possible with a new protein-based sensor that changes its fluorescence when it binds to these metals.

  • Huge supply of rare-earth elements from mining waste

    Researchers have examined a method to extract rare-earth elements from mining waste that could provide the world with a reliable supply of the valuable materials.

  • Using concrete for space colonies

    “Be prepared.” This famous mantra isn’t just for the Boy Scouts of America. The need to build durable infrastructure on other planets is coming, and we must be ready. To prepare, researchers have been exploring how cement solidifies in microgravity environments.

  • Working around helium shortage

    Doctors use X-rays to see inside people, and scientists use neutrons to peer inside advanced materials and devices such as fuel cells to better understand and improve them. But a critical shortage of a rare form of helium used for detecting neutrons—which are difficult to spot directly—threatens to slow advances in this critical type of materials research. Scientists found a way to replace expensive and scarce helium-3 gas with previously studied crystals of more abundant materials.

  • Interior releases 2018’s final list of critical minerals

    The Department of the Interior last week published a list of 35 mineral commodities considered critical to the economic and national security of the United States. This list will be the initial focus of a multi-agency strategy due in August this year, which aims to break America’s dependence on foreign minerals.

  • Making combat vehicles lighter

    The military spends several billion dollars each year on fuel consumption, which could be reduced by lessening the weight of ships, aircraft, ground vehicles, and cargo. Researchers have developed and successfully tested a novel process — called Friction Stir Dovetailing — that joins thick plates of aluminum to steel. The new process will be used to make lighter-weight military vehicles that are more agile and fuel efficient.

  • Pulling valuable metals from e-waste makes economic sense

    Electronic waste — including discarded televisions, computers and mobile phones — is one of the fastest-growing waste categories worldwide. For years, recyclers have gleaned usable parts, including metals, from this waste stream. That makes sense from a sustainability perspective, but it’s been unclear whether it’s reasonable from an economic viewpoint. Now researchers report that recovering gold, copper and other metals from e-waste is cheaper than obtaining these metals from mines.

  • 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.