Wayne State receives $3.1 million grant to seek alternative sources of rare earth elements

Drs. Allen and Dittrich will  lead a collaborative team that will focus on developing a U.S. rare earth element supply chain and a process of handling waste streams.
Wayne State researchers to lead $3.1 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ERDC program grant

DETROIT – A multidisciplinary team of researchers at Wayne State University have been awarded a $3.1 million grant from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ERDC program to seek alternative sources of rare earth elements critical to advanced military and consumer technologies.

The project, Rare Earths from U.S. Extractions – or REUSE – will focus on both basic and related applied research in science and engineering with the goal of developing a U.S. rare earth element (REE) supply chain as well as a process of handling waste streams. REUSE is led by two principal investigators, Mathew J. Allen, Ph.D., chair and professor of chemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Timothy M. Dittrich, Ph.D., assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering at Wayne State University.

Rare earth elements are a set of 17 elements that are plentiful in the earth’s crust, but are rarely found concentrated in large ore deposits. REE’s have a diverse magnetic, chemical, electrical, optical and catalytic properties that in the past four decades have been increasingly beneficial in advanced military and consumer technologies, as well as electronics that involve unique metal alloys, optical displays, magnets and lasers.

According to Dittrich,  domestic production of these critical elements has decreased over the past 40 years such that China is now the primary global supplier of REE’s, producing more than 80 percent of the world’s supply.

“It is critical that the identification, characterization and recovery of domestic REE resources is enhanced in the United States to maintain critical national security and technological advances,” said Dittrich. “Our goal is to develop strategies to mitigate potential supply disruptions by investigating alternative sources of REEs from traditional and overlooked feedstocks.” 

The multidisciplinary team will apply advanced characterization tools to evaluate potential sources, conduct fundamental research into a system to extract and separate REEs, and develop a process resulting in REE products and a sustainable waste management plan for them.

“The team includes 11 faculty members from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering at Wayne State University and one faculty member from the University of California Los Angeles,” said Allen. “Graduate students, undergraduate students, postdoctoral researchers and staff from those research groups will be involved in performing the proposed studies with the faculty members. Additionally, the project involves active collaborations with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center.”

“This is a great example of bringing together a talented research team across colleges who will assemble to do something special,” said Stephen M. Lanier, Ph.D., vice president for research at Wayne State. “This important project would not be possible without this type of collaboration.”

The grant number for this U.S. Army Corps of Engineers award is W912HZ-21-2-0048.



About Wayne State University

Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit research.wayne.edu.


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Julie O'Connor

Director, Research Communications
Phone: 313-577-8845
Email: julie.oconnor@wayne.edu