WSU to study rare earth elements in Everett

They’re essential to all electronics.

Europium. Promethium. Scandium. And others.

The second to last rung on the Periodic Table is devoted to the so-called “rare earth elements,” metals that are used in everything from cell phones to wind turbines.

Because these minerals are vital to consumer electronics, as well as defense and green techology, they’re a big deal.

“Rare earths impact everyone,” said Chris Keane, Washington State University’s vice president of research. “If you have a cell phone, you’re impacted; if you have a computer, you’re impacted.

“One of the reasons the colors are so bright on your screen is because of rare earths — Europium in particular.”

Right now, China controls 90 percent of rare earth production in the world.

That may change and WSU in Everett may be part of the reason.

WSU North Puget Sound at Everett will soon become the home to a new institute looking to develop alternatives to rare earth elements and recycle the elements out of existing products.

It’s the first research program for the emerging campus.

The Joint Center for Deployment and Research in Earth Abundant Materials (JCDREAM) was established by legislation sponsored by Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, and signed by Gov. Jay Inslee on July 6.

Smith cited issues of environmental sustainability, national security and supply chain stability for the creation of the center.

Rare earth elements earned their name because they were originally hard to find, Keane said.

“It turns out they’re just clustered in the earth in various spots,” he added.

The majority of those clusters are in China.

Rep. Smith added the United States Geological Survey found that Afghanistan is a mineral-rich nation.

She said that more than 70 percent of titanium — not a rare earth element, but a difficult-to-source element used to create lightweight and more fuel-efficient transportation technologies — comes from Ukraine and Russia. Tensions in those countries have threatened the supply chain of rare earth minerals.

Mining for these elements is a highly toxic, resource intensive process. A lot of chemicals are used to break down the raw material and extract a small amount of rare earths, Keane said.

Those environmental concerns led Smith to develop the legislation.

“For us to say we want to deploy next-generation technology and yet do so in a way that exports the environmental harm of improper mineral extraction to other nations is not an acceptable strategy,” Smith said.

In addition to finding possible substitutes to rare earth elements, the center will also look at expanding the recycling of those elements. Currently, less than 1 percent of rare earths are recaptured from used consumer electronics.

The legislation also establishes a partnership between the state’s research institutions: WSU, the University of Washington and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

“When you put your best researchers form WSU, UW and PNNL together, you’re going to get some very exciting results,” Smith said.

The partnership will bring together a broad basis of knowledge in subjects like materials science, materials engineering and chemistry, said Christian Mailhoit, a WSU materials science professor, who testified to the Legislature in support of Smith’s bill.

“You really need to understand these phenomenon at the fundamental level in order to translate that knowledge into things like recycling, manufacturing and substitution,” Mailhoit said.

Having that basis of fundamental science will lead to development and deployment of new technologies.

“It’s really important to have that deployment aspect to it so you can fully realize the benefit of research,” Mailhoit said. “I think it will be very beneficial to the state in particular and the country in general.”

The legislation establishes a board of directors for the institute; members will include representatives of WSU, the University of Washington, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, community colleges and related industries. Having the community colleges and industries on board ensures that institute will help prepare a work force that can build what the institute develops. Smith said that was a critical component to the center.

Establishing the center at the North Puget Sound branch is part of a larger WSU initiative to expand the school’s offerings at that site, said Chris Mulick, WSU’s director of state relations.

“To date, our activity has really been around bring new academic programs to the area, but this would be something different,” Mulick said. “It makes a lot of sense, and looking down the road, it makes a lot of sense for that economy as well.”

Materials science research is important to aerospace manufacturers, Keane said. The center essentially establishes a materials science program in Everett.

“There’s a lot of industries in Everett interested in materials science research,” Keane said.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

FILE - In this Monday, March 23, 2020, file photo, a worker walks near a mural of a Boeing 777 airplane at the company's manufacturing facility in Everett, Wash., north of Seattle. Beginning in 2024, some 737 planes will be built in Everett, the company announced to workers on Monday. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
With 747 out, Boeing to open new 737 Max line at Everett’s Paine Field

Since the last 747 rolled out of the factory, speculation has been rife that Boeing might move some 737 Max production to Everett.

IonQ will open a new quantum computing manufacturing and research center at 3755 Monte Villa Parkway in Bothell. (Photo courtesy of IonQ)
Quantum computing firm IonQ to open Bothell R&D center

IonQ says quantum computing systems are key to addressing climate change, energy and transportation.

Nathanael Engen, founder of Black Forest Mushrooms, sits in the lobby of Think Tank Cowork with his 9-year-old dog, Bruce Wayne, on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, in downtown Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Growing green mushrooms in downtown Everett

The founder of Black Forest Mushrooms plans to grow gourmet mushrooms locally, reducing their carbon footprint.

Barb Lamoureux, 78, poses for a photo at her office at 1904 Wetmore Ave in Everett, Washington on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. Lamoureux, who founded Lamoureux Real Estate in 2004, is retiring after 33 years. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Barb Lamoureux, ‘North Everett’s Real Estate Agent’ retires

A longtime supporter of Housing Hope, Lamoureux helped launch the Windermere Foundation Golf Tournament.

Bothell
AGC Biologics in Bothell to produce new diabetes treatment

The contract drug manufacturer paired with drug developer Provention Bio to bring the new therapy to market.

FILE - In this file photo dated Monday, March 11, 2019, rescuers work at the scene of an Ethiopian Airlines plane crash south of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  The number of deaths in major air crashes around the globe fell by more than half in 2019 according to a report released Wednesday Jan. 1, 2020, by the aviation consultancy To70, revealing the worst crash for the year was an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX on March 10 that lost 157 lives. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene, FILE)
US board says Boeing Max likely hit a bird before 2019 crash

U.S. accident investigators disagree with Ethiopian authorities over the cause of a 2019 Boeing 737 Max crash.

Store owner Jay Behar, 50, left, and store manager Dan Boston, 60, right, work to help unload a truck of recliners at Behar's Furniture on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. Behar's Furniture on Broadway in Everett is closing up shop after 60 years in business. The family-owned furniture store opened in 1963, when mid-century model styles were all the rage. Second-generation owner, Jay Behar says it's time to move on. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Behar’s Furniture in Everett closing after 60 years

“It’s time to move on.” The small family-owned store opened in 1963 and grew to cover an entire city block.

Katy Woods, a Licensed Coach, Branch Manager, and experienced Banker at Coastal Community Bank.
Coastal Community Bank Offers Classes for Businesses

To support local business owners and their teams, Coastal offers complimentary Money… Continue reading

Innovative Salon Products online fulfillment employees, from left, Stephanie Wallem, Bethany Fulcher, Isela Ramirez and Gretchen House, work to get orders put together on Friday, Jan. 6, 2023, at the company’s facility in Monroe, Washington. The company began including pay, benefits and perks to its job listings over a year ago, well ahead of the new statewide mandate to include a pay range on job postings at companies with over 15 employees. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
New state law requires employers to give pay range in job postings

Washington’s new pay transparency law aims to narrow wage gaps based on race or gender — though some companies may seek loopholes.

Paddywack co-owner Shane Somerville with the 24-hour pet food pantry built by a local Girl Scout troop outside of her store on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022 in Mill Creek, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
An out-paw-ring of support: Mill Creek pantry feeds pets, day or night

With help from local Girl Scouts, the Mill Creek pet food store Paddywack is meeting the need for pet supplies in a pinch.

Kelly Cameron is the woodworker behind Clinton-based business Turnco Wood Goods. (David Welton)
Whidbey woodworkers turn local lumber into art

In the “Slab Room” at Madrona Supply Co., customers can find hunks of wood native to the south end of Whidbey Island.

Siblings Barbara Reed and Eric Minnig, who, co-own their parent’s old business Ken’s Camera along with their brother Bryan, stand outside the Evergreen Way location Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022, in Everett, Washington. After five decades in business, Ken’s will be closing its last two locations for good at the end of the year. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Print it or lose it: Ken’s Camera closes after decades caught on film

The local legend, processing film photos since 1971, will close its locations in Mount Vernon and Everett at the end of 2022.