FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 20, 2012

SCHUMER URGES WHITE HOUSE TO PARTNER WITH UNIV. AT BUFFALO & BACK CUTTING-EDGE RESEARCH IN DEVELOPMENT OF SYNTHETIC RARE EARTH ELEMENTS; PARTNERSHIP WOULD HELP COMBAT CHINA'S ILLEGAL HOARDING OF CRITICAL MINERALS



Schumer Urges Obama Admin’s Office of Science & Tech. to Meet with UB & Form Research Partnership to Develop Substitutes for Rare Earths – Effort Would Address Dependence on China’s Rare Earth Exports, That Are Driving Up Production Costs for Companies Across the Country

SUNY at Buffalo, Partnered With Local Energy and High-Tech Companies, Is Perfectly Suited to Commercialize their Research in Developing Synthetic Substitutes for Rare Earth Elements That Are Essential for Local Manufacturers, Job Creation

Schumer to Admin: Help Univ. at Buffalo Build on Existing Research Strength, Develop Technologies to Produce Synthetic REE Substitutes

 

Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer urged the Obama administration’s Office of Science and Technology to hold a meeting with the State University of New York’s University at Buffalo to help the institution lead the way in cutting-edge research to develop synthetic substitutes for natural materials, like rare earth elements, that are critical to the growth of high-tech businesses and manufacturers. Of all rare earth elements that are industrially mined, 97% are controlled by China, and their trade policies have stifled the international supply of these materials that are important to a number of Buffalo companies.

The University at Buffalo’s mission to expand research and develop technologies to produce synthetic materials that can serve as substitutes to these important minerals is directly in line with the administration’s Materials Genome Initiative (GMI), established in 2011 to improve U.S. global competitiveness and ensure that the U.S remains at the forefront of the advanced materials marketplace. Schumer is urging the administration’s Office of Science and Technology to meet with University at Buffalo officials to develop a successful partnership that meets their shared mission.

 

The University at Buffalo recognizes the critical role that rare earth elements plays for job-creating businesses and manufacturers in Buffalo and across the country, and has invested in Material Informatics, the study and creation of these natural elements and minerals in a laboratory. UB is in a prime position to lead this cutting-edge research and to commercialize that research into business success. In recent months, the Chinese government has imposed strict export restraints and sky-high export taxes on rare earth elements. This has meant a cheap and plentiful flow of rare earth elements within China, and an expensive and drastically limited global supply. The Chinese government's actions have created yet another unfair advantage for Chinese manufacturers, causing markedly higher costs increases for high-tech and manufacturing companies in New York that produce items ranging from batteries to wind turbines, and from laser-guided weapons to night vision goggles. As the White House increasingly focuses on combating China’s rare earth policy and developing research clusters to translate innovation into new business and jobs, Schumer wants to ensure that the University at Buffalo is in prime position to tap into federal investments in these areas.


“When it comes to obtaining rare earth elements, which are critical to U.S. manufacturers and high-tech businesses, we must combat China’s stranglehold on these natural elements from all angles and a cutting-edge UB research facility dedicated to developing synthetic alternatives can be a key piece of that puzzle,” said Schumer. “By meeting with officials from the University at Buffalo, the White House Office of Science and Technology can take the first step toward a partnership, that will not only advance U.S. trade goals by decreasing our dependence on Chinese exports, but will also help support a powerful research engine in Western New York. This opportunity to expand cutting-edge research at UB will help grow the Western New York economy and ensure local companies remain competitive in the global marketplace by ensuring they have the materials they need to flourish.”

Schumer noted that University at Buffalo is perfectly positioned to host this research in materials informatics, as well as drive the commercialization of that research. Western New York is home to a number of energy and high-tech companies that could serve as partners to help UB and the White House advance this effort, including: Moog, Ceno Technologies, and National Grid. Additionally, through its work on the medical campus, UB has already demonstrated the ability to successfully commercialize research in life sciences. Based on this strong track record and the potential for local partnerships, Schumer believes that the University at Buffalo would be a successful partner in the pursuit of developing synthetic substitutes for rare earth elements, to ensure that U.S. manufacturers are not dependent on China’s illegal hoarding of rare earth elements that drive up production costs for companies in Buffalo and across the country. 

The University at Buffalo’s mission to develop a partnership in materials informatics fits squarely with the administration’s initiative to discover, develop and manufacture advanced materials in the United States. The administration’s Materials Genome Initiative for Global Competitiveness is a new, multi-stakeholder effort to develop an infrastructure to accelerate advanced materials discovery and deployment in the United States. Over the last several decades there has been significant federal investment in new experimental processes and techniques for designing advanced materials. This new focused initiative will better leverage existing federal investments through the use of computational capabilities, data management, and an integrated approach to materials science and engineering.

Advanced materials are essential to economic security and human services, with applications in multiple industries, including those aimed at addressing challenges in clean energy, national security, and human welfare. Accelerating the pace of discovery and deployment of advanced material systems will therefore be crucial to achieving global competitiveness in the 21st century. The Materials Genome Initiative aims to create a new era of materials innovation that will serve as a foundation for strengthening domestic industries in these fields. This initiative offers a unique opportunity for the United States to discover, develop, manufacture, and deploy advanced materials at least twice as fast as possible today, at a fraction of the cost.

A copy of Schumer’s letter appears below:

Dear Director John P. Holdren:

 

I write to request that you meet with a team from the State University of New York’s University at Buffalo to discuss a potential future partnership in materials informatics. President Obama has continued to demonstrate his commitment to the Materials Genome Initiative (MGI) for Global Competitiveness and I believe that the University at Buffalo has many of the strengths needed to advance this effort.

 

For a number of years I have been advocating for a tougher crackdown on the Chinese policy of hoarding rare earth elements. Indeed, we need to continue to pressure the Chinese to make these elements available to US manufactures, but that is only a piece of the puzzle. We also need to build on existing research strength and help American innovators develop the knowledge needed to produce synthetic substitutes for these rare earth elements.

 

Over the past seven years, the University at Buffalo has developed areas of research strength in materials science, chemistry, physics, electrical engineering, and informatics. These research strengths along with the vision of the University’s President Satish Tripathi and Vice President for Research Alexander Cartwright position the University at Buffalo to be a national leader in materials informatics and a logical partner for the MGI.

 

The University at Buffalo is also strategically positioned to successfully commercialize the research they conduct in this field. With a tremendous amount of potential local industry partners in both the energy and high tech fields as well as a strong track record of commercializing research in the field of life sciences, the University at Buffalo will not only be a strong research partner but will also help drive economic development with this partnership.

 

Given the University’s strengths and the importance of this initiative to our overall national priorities I urge you to meet with the University at Buffalo’s materials informatics team as soon as possible. I will continue to support their pursuit of this important mission and I hope you will do the same.

 

Sincerely,


U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer

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