Resnick Institute

Critical Materials in Sustainable Energy Applications Workshop

Critical Materials

April 14-15, 2011

This workshop brought together a key group of people for a facilitated discussion to answer the question "How should we focus research and development efforts to best mitigate the effects of material criticality on achieving a sustainable energy future?" The workshop took place over the course of two days, and included four half-day closed-door working sessions, with additional plenary/keynote talks that were open to the Caltech community. The working sessions were structured to address resource scarcity from the perspectives of both supply (process innovations in production and extraction) and demand (materials innovations that substitute away from critical elements). View presentations.

Critical Materials

Workshop Report

The workshop report is a white paper summarizing the discussion and providing a roadmap for R&D efforts involving potentially critical materials. View report.

Working Session 1:
What makes a material critical for sustainable energy?

Session leaders: Zhenheng Chen and Jack Lifton

This session set the stage for the balance of the workshop. Starting from the background material in the suggested reading list, the group discussed the requirements and availability of these materials, and endeavored to answer the question: What, if any, are the truly critical materials for renewable energy, and how can we identify them?

Working Session 2:
Supply-base improvement possibilities

Session leader: Chunhua Yan

This discussion focused on potential technological improvements in material extraction and processing, and the economic realities around their implementation. It honed in on the question, "How can we set an R&D agenda to mitigate the criticality of some of these elements?" The attendees worked to identify new techniques/processes that might shift materials off of the critical list.

Working Session 3:
Research on substitute materials

Session leader: Mark Johnson

This session was devoted to creating an R&D agenda to engineer new materials that can be used in these applications that are not constrained. In some cases this will be a replacement of the critical material only, while others will require system level changes. The group will focused on a few key example materials, and use these case studies to create a framework for addressing this problem for any critical material.

Working Session 4:
Mechanisms for reducing critical materials issues

Session leader: Rod Eggert

Based on the outputs of the previous sessions, this discussion revolved around how to implement potential solutions. It examined how national/international policy, economics and industry could be leveraged and evaluated the best way to structure an R&D budget on materials for new energy technology given the previous discussions.