Missouri University of Science and Technology’s expertise in critical minerals and materials research led to its selection last week as one of 31 regional Innovation and Technology Hubs (Tech Hubs) funded in the United States through a federal act.
They are designed to spur innovation and create jobs in the industries that are concentrated in the targeted areas, including Texas County.
The 31 hubs were announced Monday, Oct. 23. The Tech Hub Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA), focuses on supporting innovation and job creation in key technology areas.
Missouri S&T’s initiative is called the Critical Minerals and Materials for Advanced Energy (CM2AE) Tech Hub — it extends into Texas County.
The Critical Minerals and Materials for Advanced Energy (CM2AE) Tech, led by the University of Missouri System, aims to position south-central Missouri as a global leader in critical minerals processing to provide the materials needed to support battery technology. (https://www.eda.gov/funding/programs/regional-technology-and-innovation-hubs/2023/Critical-Minerals-and-Materials-for-Advanced-Energy-Tech-Hub)
The region targeted for the project includes the communities of Farmington, Rolla and West Plains, as well as the counties of Carter, Crawford, Dent, Iron, Madison, Oregon, Reynolds, Shannon, St. Genevieve, Texas and Washington counties.
The proposal led by the UM system will engage with labor and workforce issues in south-central, southeast Missouri and in some parts of the outlying St. Louis area, according to a spokesman for the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla.
The tech hubs are the result of a process that the U.S. Commerce Department launched in May to distribute a total of $500 million in grants to cities.
The $500 million came from a $10 billion authorization in last year’s CHIPS and Science Act to stimulate investments in new technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing and biotech. It’s an attempt to expand tech investment that is largely concentrated around a few U.S. cities — Austin, Boston, New York, San Francisco and Seattle — to the rest of the country.
“I have to say, in my entire career in public service, I have never seen as much interest in any initiative than this one,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said during a press conference in advance of the announcement. Her department received 400 applications, she said.
“No matter where I go or who I meet with — CEOs, governors, senators, congresspeople, university presidents — everyone wants to tell me about their application and how excited they are,” said Raimondo.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said S&T’s selection as a hub is a testament to the university’s leadership related to critical minerals research.
“Missouri is a national leader in manufacturing with rich reserves in critical minerals, and we’re proud that Missouri S&T continues to be at the forefront in preparing our state for the demands of tomorrow,” Parson says. “We appreciate the University of Missouri’s leadership in supporting battery technology and innovative job opportunities for Missourians across the state.
“Whatever we need, we know Missourians can make it, and this Tech Hub will help strengthen our supply chains and lessen our reliance on foreign nations.”
ABOUT THE SOUTH-CENTRAL MISSOURI HUB
Dr. Kwame Awuah-Offei, principal investigator of the S&T hub and chair of mining and explosives engineering, says this initiative will provide an economic boost to the region, while also working to solve important issues related to energy manufacturing and critical minerals.
“Our work will build on the region’s mineral-rich geography, expertise in hydrometallurgical processing and existing assets,” he says. “We will increase processing capacity to convert minerals into materials necessary for advanced energy and critical goods, including lithium-ion and primary-lead-acid batteries.
“This will make a significant difference for America’s energy manufacturers and reduce dependence on foreign critical minerals, while also creating thousands of good-paying jobs.”
More than 400 applications were submitted. Since S&T was selected as one of the top applicants, the university now qualifies for Phase 2 of the program, with applications due by late February of next year. For this phase, EDA will award five to 10 grants, with each recipient receiving $40 million to $70 million.
Missouri S&T Chancellor Mo Dehghani says the Tech Hub includes multiple partners throughout the state.
“We greatly appreciate the support of members of our congressional delegation, Gov. Mike Parson and our partners in industry and government, including the Missouri Department of Economic Development, Missouri Chamber of Commerce, Missouri Association of Councils of Governments, and community leaders in the 14 counties that comprise our Tech Hub district,” he says.
“Addressing our nation’s critical minerals challenges requires a broad effort, and I’m grateful to the many organizations and individuals who recognize the importance of this effort supporting our national supply chain security.”
S&T was also awarded a $500,000 Strategy Development Grant, which will be used for local planning and coordination to further develop regional economic development strategies. The 14 Missouri counties included in S&T’s Tech Hub region include Carter, Crawford, Dent, Howell, Iron, Madison, Oregon, Phelps, Reynolds, Shannon, St. Francois, Ste. Genevieve, Texas and Washington.
For over 150 years, the university has served as one of the nation’s leaders in the field of mineral recovery. More recently, S&T has focused on helping the U.S. address challenges related to critical minerals, which the Energy Act of 2020 defines as non-fuel minerals vital to the nation’s economic or national security. Missouri is home to 29 of the 50 critical minerals identified by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Funding for the Tech Hubs comes from $500 million Congress appropriated to EDA earlier this year to launch the program. Those funds were part of the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, which authorized $10 billion over the next five years for the Regional Technology and Innovation Hubs program.
Missouri’s 2024 budget also included $16 million for the Missouri Department of Economic Development to support S&T’s critical minerals research efforts.
Earlier this year, S&T hosted the third annual Resilient Supply of Critical Minerals national workshop through support from the National Science Foundation. The workshop brought together leaders from academia, government and the private sector to discuss the potential of mining critical minerals in the U.S., mineral processing and recycling, critical mineral policies, and sustainability.
Three of the workshop’s co-organizers are working with Awuah-Offei as co-principal investigators for the Tech Hub. Those co-PIs include:
Dr. Lana Alagha, associate professor of mining engineering
Dr. Marek Locmelis, associate professor of geology and geophysics and faculty fellow in research and innovation
Dr. Michael Moats, chair of materials science and engineering
Dr. Maciej Zawodniok, associate professor of computer engineering, is also a co-PI.