Research on the extraction and use of rare earth elements should be part of the regular engineering program



Due to a low focus on research related to the extraction of 20 strategic metals which include 17 rare earth elements (REE) as well as nickel, cobalt and Lithium in engineering colleges across the country, India has reported no significant advances in this vital area. Engineering students in the country are not proactively pursuing masters and doctoral studies in this field due to the lack of quality faculty and research facilities in engineering schools. In addition, due to poor work in the field of rare earths, including mining and their extraction techniques, students are not motivated to work in this field.

Recently, 10 Western countries led by the United States of America formed a partnership named Mineral Security Partnership (MSP). India is not included in this partnership because it has not made significant progress in mining and researching these 20 elements. These 11 countries would focus on creating supply chains of minerals such as cobalt, nickel, lithium and 17 REEs through the mining, extraction and use of these elements to develop an alternative to China which created a huge rare earth mineral processing infrastructure and acquired mines in Africa. Cobalt, nickel and lithium are the essential raw materials for the manufacture of batteries used in electric and hybrid vehicles. REEs are an essential component of more than 200 consumer products, including cell phones, computer hard drives, electric and hybrid vehicles, semiconductors, flat panel televisions and monitors, and high-end electronics. high-end such as space and weapons technologies.

Speaking to Education Times, Chaitanya Lekshmi IndraAssociate Professor, Department of Chemistry (CoEs: Materials Science/Sensors & Nano electronics), CMR Institute of Technology, Bengaluru, states: “In the current scenario of impending energy transition which is based on the production of hydrogen as a clean fuel for vehicles or the sanitation of the environment by capturing Carbon dioxide and ensuring water security. These 17 REEs along with nickel, cobalt, lithium and metals are among the crucial catalysis, detection and separation processes involved.

“The main activity in most engineering colleges is the BE program whose curriculum is often very rudimentary and the scope of extensive scientific research and development is negligible. Focusing on pursuing master’s degree lacks seriousness because after UG, college students and even faculty are widely engaged in securing better placements Full-time doctoral programs and the provision of dedicated research faculty to them, which form the core of such research activities, are a common practice in higher education institutes in most countries, but are almost non-existent in Indian engineering colleges, except in a few cases,” Indira explains.

“The applied science branch of materials science and metallurgy is highly relevant today due to the development of alternative and renewable energies (solar, wind, hydrogen production, batteries and supercapacitors), consumer electronic gadgets, environmental engineering and remediation (water, air and soil pollution, CO2 capture), geotechnical monitoring (including alternative energy and mining) and composites for various technological applications. rare earth elements can be one of the important topics to pursue as it relates to most of these activities which can improve academic standards and bridge the research gap if faculty and students are properly oriented,” informs indira.

Manorajan Kumar Manoj, Head, Department of metallurgical and Materials Engineering, National Institute of Technology, Raipur, states: “20 strategic metals, including 17 REE as well as nickel, cobalt and lithium, are used in various applications such as the manufacture of highly corrosion and heat resistant materials, batteries, components electronics and more. Li-ion batteries have great potential for use in electric vehicles and therefore these metals are necessary for the development of any country. However, in engineering schools across the country, research on REE mining is a neglected area despite the fact that these metals have tremendous strategic importance attached to them. This is due to the fact that the extraction of these metals is a complicated and expensive process.

“The development of infrastructure and the motivation of researchers and scientists can help boost research and development in the extraction of these metals and their use in the manufacture of various products that the country currently needs,” adds Manoj.

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