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DARPA Enlists 3 Teams to Study Rare Earth Elements Critical to Defense Systems

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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will work with Battelle, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and San Diego State University on a three-phase research project to explore bioengineering methods for separating and purifying rare earth elements.

The goal of the four-year Environmental Microbes as a BioEngineering Resource program is to conserve the supply of REEs, which are critical components of defense weapons, devices and systems, DARPA said Thursday.

Research teams will explore bioengineering, biomining and other biotechnology approaches to enhance the selectivity and specificity of biomolecules and microbes.

“The selected projects each offer a different approach to developing new, safe biomining and bioprocessing methods for REEs that will enhance the use of complex, domestic sources. If successful, EMBER researchers will be able to not just purify REEs but also recover other critical metals, including those in recycled electronics,” said Linda Chrisey, a DARPA program manager.

Her remarks are in reference to DARPA’s Recycling at the Point of Disposal program, which is looking into end-of-life electronics hardware and other e-waste in search of potential low-volume fraction critical elements.

The agency also teamed up with the U.S. Geological Survey on a competitive effort that will use machine learning and artificial intelligence to expedite the assessment of critical mineral resources found in the country.