APR 14, 2023 5:00 AM PDT

$8 Million Grant Awarded to West Virginia University for Rare Earth Element Extraction Facility

An $8 million research grant from the U.S. Department of Energy was recently awarded to West Virginia University (WVU) to aid in the further development and advancement of a novel rare earth element (REE) technology, which helps power a myriad of technologies from smartphones to the missile guidance systems in the United States and was created by researchers at WVU to mine and separate rare earth elements and critical minerals (CM) from coal waste and acid mine drainage (AMD). This study holds the potential to make a positive impact on both the US economy and the environment, as well, and is funded as part of President Joe Biden’s agenda known as Investing in America.

Image of an acid mine drainage at the Richard Mine site on lower Deckers Creek, which is a tributary in West Virginia. (Credit: WVU Photo/Brian Persinger)

“Their work will not only help address acid mine drainage across West Virginia, but the eventual construction and operation of the pre-commercial demonstration facility will create employment in regions of West Virginia impacted by the United States’ transition away from fossil fuels,” said WVU Vice President for Research, Dr. Fred King. “We are grateful for the U.S. Department of Energy and our state and federal government leaders for helping WVU advance this novel approach to extracting rare earth elements and critical minerals from acid mine drainage that Paul and his team have developed.”

Along with selecting candidate locations within West Virginia for this new technology facility, the researchers have also been actively engaged with a wide range of stakeholders, including state and local legislators, trade unions, and environmental and community-based economic development groups, just to name a few.

“Using AMD as a feedstock has several community and environmental advantages,” said Ziemkiewicz, who has testified before the U.S. Senate on his research. “These are already permitted sites, which facilitates the move to production, and exploration is easy: just sample the site’s AMD discharges. Also, we’re not opening a new mine or disturbing a lot of ground, and we don’t produce radioactive byproducts like most conventional rare earth mines. Also, acid mine drainage provides the rare earths in a form that is easily recovered so no rock grinding nor intensive processing is needed. As a result, our carbon footprint is much less than a conventional mining and milling operation. Finally, our main byproduct is clean water since our process separately recovers the rare earths and all the other metals from AMD.”

Working with the U.S. Department of Energy since 2016, Dr. Ziemkiewicz’s team has worked to both examine and fine tune the technology, and Dr. Ziemkiewicz predicts the new facility could create between 5.4% and 7.3% of the global needs for two of the most targeted and crucial REEs in the world, Terbium and Dysprosium.

Dr. Ziemkiewicz’s team has also been working with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to build an AMD/REE pilot plant near Mount Storm, which can produce almost two tons of REEs and CMs per year while treating up to 500 gallons per minute of AMD from a nearby coal property.

“This award is a testament to the innovative research Paul and his team have broken ground on in recent years,” King said. “It’s also representative of the University’s collaborative approach to academic investigation and our commitment to WVU’s land-grant mission.”

What new discoveries will researchers make about REEs in the coming years and decades? Only time will tell, and this is why we science!

Sources: WVUToday

As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Laurence Tognetti is a six-year USAF Veteran who earned both a BSc and MSc from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Laurence is extremely passionate about outer space and science communication, and is the author of "Outer Solar System Moons: Your Personal 3D Journey".
You May Also Like
Loading Comments...