SDSM&T lands $1M in research funding for rare earth metals, reduces dependence on China

Stefanie Botelho's picture

A faculty team at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology has been awarded $999,998 in funding from the U.S. Department of Defense – Army Research Lab through a subaward from the University of Alabama.

Focusing on novel extraction technologies for rare earth ores, the research will use a multidisciplinary approach to develop new leaching and concentration techniques and strategies for recovery of rare earth metals. The School of Mines has a long tradition of research related to the metallurgy associated with mineral concentration and metal recovery.

Rare earth metals, derived from their ores, have been deemed critical to the nation’s economy and defense. End uses for rare earth elements include applications in petroleum refining, cell phones, laptops, wind turbines, jet fighter engines, missile guidance systems, antimissile defense and hybrid vehicles.

For years, China has been the largest supplier of rare earth metals due to a generous supply of resources and economical extraction techniques. However, in recent years, China announced a halt in production of some of its major rare earth mines. This reduction in exports placed increased pressure on the global market to meet the explosive demand.

With fears of a shortage, mining, extracting and refining these rare earth metals became a top priority, even lending the resource a new moniker: critical strategic metals. Adding to the challenge is the difficulty of the extraction process. Many easy ores – ores where metal is readily visible – have already been processed, and as the grade of ore deteriorates, extraction technologies must become inversely advanced.

As of now, there is only one active source in the United States and four universities researching extraction techniques – the School of Mines among them.

“Mines is one of the few universities in the nation that still teaches and does research in extractive metallurgy – getting metals from rocks. The supplies of these rare metals are currently dominated by China, and, as a nation, we need to develop secure sources of supply in North America. Our researchers have made progress in this area already, and I’m glad we will continue to do so through the effort funded by the Defense Department,” said Mines President Heather Wilson.

Faculty members involved at the School of Mines are Jon Kellar, Ph.D., Michael West, Ph.D., William Cross, Ph.D., Sadegh Safarzadeh, Ph.D., Kenneth Han, Ph.D., Department of Materials & Metallurgical Engineering, and David Boyles, Ph.D., Department of Chemistry & Applied Biological Sciences.



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About SDSM&T Founded in 1885, the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology is a science and engineering research university located in Rapid City, S.D., offering bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. The university enrolls 2,640 students from 45 states and 37 countries, with a student-to-faculty ratio of 14:1. The average starting salary for graduates is $62,400 with a 98 percent placement rate. Find us online at, on Facebook at and on Twitter at