University of Idaho-led project with CAES ties receives IGEM award

A collaborative project led by University of Idaho Assistant Professor Amin Mirkouei and industry partner Idaho Strategic Resources recently received a $348K award from the Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission (IGEM). The project, which includes researchers from Idaho National Laboratory, the Center for Advanced Energy Studies, the state of Idaho, University of Idaho and Idaho Strategic Resources, calls for research and development on a new technique for drilling and extracting rare earth elements.
Mirkouei’s project focuses on environmentally friendly extraction and processing techniques for several Idaho-based rare earth elements: neodymium (Nd), praseodymium (Pr), and yttrium (Y). It has the potential to lessen the nation’s dependence on other countries for rare earth elements (REEs) used in a variety of products, including high-performance magnets, advanced materials such as alloys for aircraft engines, and lasers.
“The national interest in the domestic REEs industry is well-documented and happening now,” Mirkouei said.
The IGEM program funds research projects in which faculty members from the CAES universities collaborate with industry to bring viable technologies to market. This fiscal year, the program has awarded $508,598 for research to commercialize innovation.
“This project capitalizes on the university’s research strengths in mining, as well as utilizing key partnerships and expertise around the state,” said Idaho Commerce Director Tom Kealey. “The outcome of this IGEM public-private research project could have a profound economic impact on Idaho’s mining industry.”
The industry partner, Idaho Strategic Resources, plans to conduct roughly $1 million worth of rare earth element drilling on its Diamond Creek property near Salmon and will supply core samples to the researchers.
“We have some very talented and similarly focused partners in this project,” said Idaho Strategic Resources CEO John Swallow. “After everything that our country has been through the last two years it is encouraging to see the state of Idaho looking to create an Idaho solution to some of the environmental, social and political issues stemming from the United States’ almost 100-percent reliance on China for REEs.”
“Rare earth metals are essential to the United States’ security and for advancing technologies. It is imperative that sources of these metals are found and developed here. It will benefit the country and the state of Idaho,” said UI, Idaho Falls Center Executive Officer and Professor Lee Ostrom.
This project consists of four steps, and UI will lead two, including extraction techniques from drilling samples and sustainability assessment studies (techno-economic and environmental impacts analyses).
“This partnership will set baselines for future studies and contribute needed incentives to attract new commercial operators in the region and the state territory at large,” Mirkouei said. “We anticipate that Idaho-sourced REEs research and development in the long term would improve domestic land-use and bioeconomy, have positive economic impacts on Idaho and help the nation to reduce reliance on foreign REE resources and other critical minerals.”

Mirkouei’s project, “Development of Idaho Sourced Rare Earth Elements Drilling and Extraction,” includes these researchers:
• Indrajit Charit, Professor, University of Idaho Department Chair
• Lee Ostrom, University of Idaho, Idaho Falls Center Executive Officer and Professor
• John Russell, Research Professor and CAES Associate Director for University of Idaho
• Claudio Berti, Director and State Geologist, Idaho Geological Survey
• Virginia Gillerman, Economic and Mining Geologist, Idaho Geological Survey
• Daniel Ginosar, Idaho National Laboratory