The objective of this SERDP Exploratory Development Statement of Need was to develop a framework and provide initial laboratory scale tools for securing critical minerals and rare earth element by recovery, recycling, and reuse in Department of Defense (DoD) weapons systems and platforms. The ultimate goals are listed below:
- Minimize waste during recycling.
- Increase use of post-production waste.
- Enhance product recycling and reuse at end-of-life disposition.
- Reduce the hazardous waste streams while improving environmental safety and occupational health.
- Provide a new source of material to DoD’s supply chain.
Proposals should have included a task to conduct a preliminary Sustainability Analysis of appropriate proportion for the proposed research and development. The Sustainability Analysis should have included varying depths of data and information that could inform the goal and scope of an analysis, the identity and quantity of relevant inputs and outputs to the system, and the estimation of life cycle impacts and costs.
Funded projects will appear below as project overviews are posted to the website.
Critical and strategic minerals include REEs such as rare earth ores, oxides, metals, alloys, which currently lack appropriate substitutes. These are used in a variety of commercial and military applications such as cell phones, lasers, communication systems, radar systems, avionics, night vision equipment, satellites, batteries, ceramics, glasses, abrasives, electric vehicles, energy efficient lighting, wind-power, computer hard drives, and DoD precision-guided munitions. Some of these applications rely on permanent rare earth magnets [1, 2, 3].
This SON supports Executive Order 13817 (A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals) through bolstering the domestic supply of critical minerals by reducing critical minerals content in products, minimizing waste during manufacturing, reusing post-production waste, and recycling at product end-of-life. Although industrial demand for REEs is relatively small in tonnage, they are essential for the diverse and expanding array of high-technology applications mentioned previously. Unfortunately, these materials require multiple processing steps before they can be utilized, including mining, separating, refining, forming and finally manufacturing. DoD has assessed potential opportunities to recover certain materials found in its electronic waste, including REE, but a number of factors hinder near-term expansion of its recovery efforts (GAO-16-576). Developing technologies for the recovery, recycling, and reuse of these minerals from DoD assets will help minimize risks associated across supply chains. DoD’s current approach to identifying and mitigating risks associated with rare earths is fragmented. With different interpretations of which rare earths are critical, establishing priorities to analyze supply risk becomes difficult (GAO-16-161). The difficulty in separating REEs leads to the current high cost and environmental footprint of recycling them. It is anticipated that work covered under this SON will research novel and low-cost methods of recovery, recycling and reuse of REEs.
To meet the objectives of this SEED SON, proposals should not exceed $250,000 in total cost and approximately one year in duration. Work performed under the SEED SON should investigate innovative approaches that entail high technical risk and/or have minimal supporting data. At the conclusion of the project, sufficient data and analysis should be available to provide risk reduction and/or a proof-of-concept. SEED projects are eligible for follow-on funding if they result in a successful initial project.