Research institutions, US Army partner to identify risks in critical minerals supply chain

Military vehicle and helicopter. (Image by the US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Army Research Laboratory, Flickr).

The Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and the US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Army Research Laboratory announced the launching of an initiative aimed at identifying risks in the supply chain for critical minerals and materials, such as rare-earth metals used in high-temperature performance alloys needed to build a wide array of military devices.

Dubbed “the Materials Recovery Technologies for Defense Supply Resiliency initiative,” the program can use up to $25 million from the Department of Defense to ensure critical supplies are available when needed, limit the reliance on foreign resources in manufacturing, and provide processes that could be used at US military operations around the world.

Seven US and international universities and six industry members are also part of the project, which has received $7.6 million in Congressional funding.

“Our national safety and security strongly depend on the uninterrupted supply of all kinds of materials. Therefore, recovery and recycling play a pivotal role in maintaining the resiliency in the supply chain,” Brajendra Mishra, one of the WPI professors involved in the initiative, said in a media statement.

“This effort will maintain the flow of products and technologies to the Department of Defense and our national industrial base. In addition, the program is intended to create environmentally friendly, energy efficient, and economically viable materials via recycling.”

The team’s main tasks include developing methods to recover critical materials, applying advanced manufacturing techniques, identifying field waste metallic material recovery processes, and studying the use of recycled polymeric materials.

“WPI will leverage its work with the Center for Resource Recovery and Recycling (CR3), the first research center in the nation dedicated to developing new technologies for maximizing the recovery and recycling of metals used in manufactured products and structures,” Mishra said.

Over 100 industrial scientists, WPI faculty, and graduate and undergraduate students are engaged in more than 20 research projects that will support this program. Researchers hail from Purdue University; Illinois Institute of Technology/GTI; University of Minnesota; University of Maryland; University of Toronto, Canada; University of Queensland, Australia; and KU Leuven, Belgium. Industry partners include Applied Materials; GDB International; Grensol; Gopher Resource; and Indium Corporation.

“This is an important initiative to support the domestic supply chain and promote the sustainable production of critical materials for US industry,” said Joseph Grogan, chief technology officer at Gopher Resource. “We are looking forward to working on several innovative projects for the program.”