UW Researcher Receives Fulbright Award for Critical Mineral Research in Norway

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Erin Phillips

Erin Phillips, a researcher in the University of Wyoming’s School of Energy Resources (SER), has received a Fulbright Award to conduct research associated with energy challenges and sustainable resource management, specifically as they relate to critical materials.

Beginning in January 2025, Phillips will be based in Bergen, Norway, at NORCE -- an independent research institution dedicated to addressing societal issues and to increasing sustainable value creation at the local, national and global levels. Over the course of five months, she will work with collaborators at the host institution to conduct a comparative study of the parallels between critical materials supply chains in Norway and Wyoming.

“I am humbled to have been selected as a Fulbright Scholar,” Phillips says. “This project will allow me to gain a deeper understanding of how Norway is approaching the challenges of critical materials and apply that to my work at the University of Wyoming. I hope to establish relationships with researchers in Norway that will continue long after my Fulbright tenure and that will extend to colleagues and students at the University of Wyoming through visits and exchanges.”

Joining SER in 2017, Phillips serves as program manager in SER’s Center for Economic Geology Research (CEGR), where she oversees a team of applied research professionals examining rare earth elements and critical mineral prospects in Wyoming. She is the principal investigator on a U.S. Department of Energy-funded project in the Powder River Basin focused on expanding and transforming the use of coal and coal-based resources to produce products using carbon ore, and exploring the coal basin as an unconventional source for rare earth elements and critical minerals.

She also leads efforts to examine the complexities of the critical materials supply chain, including workforce development strategies, economical and ethical extraction processing considerations, and community education and engagement.

“Dr. Phillips has done exceptional work over the years collaborating with national labs and other partner institutions to conduct important research on domestic supplies of rare earth elements and critical minerals,” says Scott Quillinan, SER’s senior director of research. “I am delighted that she will be utilizing her expertise and forging new partnerships to share successes and address common gaps in critical material exploration and production.”

There are similarities in the ongoing research being conducted in both the U.S. and Norway. Both countries have invested money and resources into supporting a secure and sustainable mineral strategy, with an emphasis on national security, the environment and affected communities. Phillips has been instrumental in assessing the existing infrastructure that could be leveraged in building out a new critical mineral industry as well as inventorying the feasibility and challenges facing coal communities in Wyoming.

Her proposed study with NORCE will allow for an informational exchange that will better position Wyoming to provide leadership in building sustainable and ethical critical materials supply chains.

“I am very proud of Dr. Phillips for going after such an amazing opportunity and pleased that her contributions to this field are being recognized,” CEGR Director Fred McLaughlin says. “The work that she is currently doing will be impactful on an international scale, and we look forward to her sharing her learnings from Norway to help advance this new industry domestically.”

Phillips earned her bachelor’s degree in geology in 2000 from Macalester College, followed by her master’s degree in 2004 from the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. She worked for the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, investigating waste rock pile stability and spent several years as a research associate for Black Hills State University before earning her Ph.D. in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at UW in 2017. Phillips currently serves as an adjunct faculty member in UW’s Department of Geology and Geophysics.

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to forge lasting connections between U.S. residents and the people of other countries; counter misunderstandings; and help people and nations work together toward common goals.

For over 75 years, the Fulbright Program has sponsored more than 400,000 participants chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential to study, teach and conduct research; exchange ideas; and find solutions of shared international concerns.

For more information about the Fulbright Scholar Program, visit www.cies.org. To set up an advising appointment, call the UW Center for Global Studies at (307) 766-3677.

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