What are critical minerals, where do we find them, and why are they considered critical? Leading critical-minerals experts from across the country discussed these questions and more during a virtual workshop hosted by Missouri S&T Aug. 2-3. The workshop provided insight and answers to issues surrounding materials such as cobalt for lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles, germanium for transistors, tellurium for solar cells and rare earth elements for magnets and electronics.
“The term ‘critical minerals’ describes commodities whose unreliable supply threatens our nation’s economy and defense,” says workshop organizer Dr. Marek Locmelis, assistant professor of geology and geophysics at Missouri S&T. “The critical-minerals discussion cuts across a variety of disciplines, from mining and geosciences to public policy to environmental considerations. Important concerns are sustainability, ethical and responsible sourcing, and research for compounds that could replace critical minerals.”
Missouri S&T hosted eight keynote presenters:
Keynote presentations addressed several topics: supply chains, global politics, domestic sourcing and production, recycling, and reprocessing. The workshop also addressed the illicit critical-mineral economy, a topic of increasing urgency as critical minerals are sometimes unethically mined – for example, using child labor and human trafficking – and illegally marketed, similar to issues associated with conflict diamonds.
The workshop featured breakout sessions where participants discussed research needs in areas related to the keynote presentations. The resulting discussions can be used to inform Congress and develop federal funding initiatives.
The National Science Foundation funded the workshop as the first in a planned series of national conversations about critical minerals. The workshops will continue to bring together representatives from higher education, industry and government to help spur action and disseminate research on critical minerals.
“We are grateful for the NSF’s support for this crucial topic,” says Locmelis. “We will continue the discussions during an in-person workshop on the Missouri S&T campus in mid-2022. Because the critical-mineral challenge will stay with us for decades, we look forward to developing the workshop into a regular series of meetings in the future.”
In addition to Locmelis, workshop organizers included Dr. Michael Moats, professor and interim chair of materials science and engineering; Dr. Kwame Awuah-Offei, interim director of mining and explosives engineering; Dr. Lana Alagha, associate professor of mining engineering; Dr. Mark Fitch, assistant chair and associate professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering; Dr. Alanna Krolikowski, assistant professor of history and political science; and Dr. Angela Lueking, former associate dean for research in the College of Engineering and Computing at Missouri S&T who has moved to Montana Technological University in Butte, Montana, as vice chancellor for research and dean of the graduate school.
About Missouri University of Science and Technology
Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) is a STEM-focused research university of over 7,600 students and part of the four-campus University of Missouri System. Located in Rolla, Missouri, Missouri S&T offers 101 different degree programs in 40 areas of study and is ranked by CollegeFactual as the best public university to study engineering. For more information about Missouri S&T, visit www.mst.edu.