The resources devoted to studying the rare earths have not changed much since around the time the color television was invented. But in the meantime, their price has skyrocketed, increasing by nearly a factor of 1,000 in some cases, and scientists and engineers continue to rely on decades old science to address the energy challenge today. Moreover, new ways to use rare earths are being developed all the time.
More advanced study of the chemical and materials properties of the energy critical elements would not only aid in mining, separating, processing, and using them in current applications more efficiently but would also allow scientists to better understand-and thus find-substitutes for them. Plus, it should accelerate technological breakthroughs. "With better science, you'll have better discovery and better technology," Houle said. "It's not feasible to go on a fishing expedition any more. You must have theory to guide the discovery effort."
The Chemical Sciences Division of Berkeley Lab is world renowned in the study of actinides, a close neighbor of the lanthanides (rare earths) and which bear some chemical similarities. One goal of Shuh's project is to improve understanding of their fundamental interactions by coupling theory to spectroscopic results, paving the way for the design of more efficient element-specific separations and development of new applications in fields such as lighting and biotechnology.
Complementing this approach, Berkeley Lab's Materials Science Division will focus on basic research into understanding the properties of materials to come up with new alternatives that mimic those properties. "For example, certain wind turbines and motors rely on neodymium magnets. A better microscopic understanding may point toward new replacement materials containing elements that are more environmentally friendly or
|Contact: Julie Chao|
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory