December 13, 2021
Bureau Researcher Dr. Tristan Childress Testifies at Texas Board of Education Meeting
Dr. Tristan Childress gave public testimony to the Texas State Board of Education on November 17 of this year during a meeting to discuss proposed changes to the state curriculum, specifically Chapter 112 titled “Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Science.” A proposed amendment to the curriculum would require sixth-grade science to cover the lanthanide series, otherwise known as the rare earth elements (REEs), and how they are essential to modern day society. In his testimony, Dr. Childress noted how rare earth elements are key components for high technology such as smart phones and tablets, vital to U.S. defense technology, and are necessary for high strength magnets needed to generate power in wind turbines. Without these elements, modern technology would not exist, and the energy transition to wind and solar would be much more difficult. The proposed amendment was accepted unanimously.
Rare earth elements have recently been categorized as critical minerals by the United States federal government, indicating that the U.S. is economically dependent on these materials while domestic consumption is over 50% reliant on imports from foreign countries. In the case of REEs, production, separation, and refinement of these elements is almost entirely reliant on Chinese operations. The federal government is currently funding multiple nationwide initiatives to categorize and catalogue domestic sources of critical minerals.
Dr. Childress is currently involved in several projects that aim to identify and catalogue occurrences of REEs and other critical minerals within the state of Texas. Current projects include geochemical sampling, surveying, and mapping of the Trans-Pecos region in West Texas, a joint project with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the New Mexico Bureau of Geology & Mineral Resources. Unconventional sources of critical minerals are also being explored in the BEG Carbon Ore, Rare Earth and Critical Minerals Initiative, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and headed by Dr. Bridget Scanlon. This project will sample coal and coal by-products for their economic viability as a nonfuel REE ore or as industrial materials. These efforts ultimately will provide quality public data sets to spur exploration and innovation within the state, and educating students early on will set them on the right track to sustainably develop Texas resources.