LAKELAND, Fla. — The U.S. Department of Energy awarded Florida Polytechnic University a $150,000 grant in hopes that researchers can find a source for rare earth elements inside the country's borders.
In a news release, the university says the elements researchers are tasked with recovering are used in the production of computers, solar panels, smartphones, electric cars and much more. As it stands, China supplies most of the world with these rare elements.
The rare earth elements are typically uncovered during phosphate processing. So, being that phosphate mining is a major industry in Florida, the federal government found it fitting to give the grant to the university's phosphate research institute.
Researchers with the university are being tasked with developing a research plan for the recovery, separation and purification of the rare earth elements during phosphate processing.
“We are excited the federal government is continuing to support FIPR’s rare earth element research and we look forward to proving our research in phase one with the hope of securing a more significant award in phase two,” said Dr. Jim Mennie, Florida Polytechnic University’s Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute business director.
That second phase, if approved, would be funded by a $4 million grant over the course of three years in order to put the plan into action, according to the university.
“If we are successful, we could satisfy the U.S. demand for many of the elements, particularly yttrium – we could maybe supply the entire world for yttrium,” said Dr. Patrick Zhang, FIPR’s research director of phosphate beneficiation and mining.
The university says the Mosaic Company - one of the largest phosphate mining companies in Florida - would be providing researchers with thousands of tons of the material needed to conduct the project.