Author Archive

Coal Industry Could be in store for a ‘rare earth’ reboot

Written by John Siciliano, Energy and Environment Reporter, Washington Examiner on . Posted in Media, News

The coal industry’s future may have much more to do with building smartphones, wind turbines and missile defense radar than billowing smoke stacks and environmental finger pointing, say federal coal advisers and experts.

The direction of the industry is aimed at harvesting what are known as “rare earth elements,” for which the U.S. industry depends on China.

The 19 elements are key ingredients in building complex electronics used in smartphones, jets, defense applications, advanced wind turbines and renewable energy, not to mention light-emitting diodes, or LEDs.

The bottom line is that the U.S. needs to diversify its supply of the minerals, and the coal industry is the nation’s best ticket to do that.

“To the extent that the administration is interested in and regards national defense as a strong national priority, I would think that they are very interested in securing a secure supply of rare earth elements that don’t rely on China,” said Paul Ziemkiewicz, West Virginia University’s water research director, who is at the forefront of transitioning the coal industry into a source of raw materials and mineral security.

The U.S. uses about 15,000 tons of rare earth elements every year, with about 800 tons of that going to the defense industry, he said. “And that’s for high-performance radars, sensors, magnets, some very specialized applications that [should] rely on a strategic reserve in this country.”

In 2016 alone, the U.S. imported more than one-half of its supply of 50 types of minerals, eight of which are identified as rare earth elements critical to the economy, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Of those 50 minerals, the U.S. was 100 percent dependent on imports for 20 of them, including all eight critical and rare earth minerals. New data released this year showed that rare earth mining was nonexistent in the U.S. in 2016, while China continued to expand its market and dominate the global supply chain.

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WVU Researcher Recognized for Work in Land Reclamation

Written by Andrew Stacy on . Posted in News, Press Release

Morgantown, W.Va. — The American Society of Mining and Reclamation awarded its 2017 Pioneers in Reclamation Award to Dr. Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute, for his significant impact to and advancement of the art and science of land reclamation over his career.

“The role of science is to make the world a better and safer place,” said Ziemkiewicz.

Making the world a better place is exactly what Ziemkiewicz has done over his 39 year career. It began with his training at Utah State University, where he graduated with a B.S. degree in biology. He then earned his M.S. in range ecology at Utah State University and his Ph.D. in forest ecology at the University of British Columbia.

In 1978, Ziemkiewicz became the director of the reclamation research program for Alberta Energy. While there, he developed a land use based mine reclamation strategy that was adopted by the Alberta Government.

In 1988, he moved to West Virginia to serve as director of the National Mine Land Reclamation Center at West Virginia University where he worked to address environmental impacts from historic coal mining. He has served as director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute since 1991. In this role he has worked to promote and implement scientifically sound strategies that prevent pollution from active mining.

In 1995, his research led the Federal Clean Streams Initiative to restore hundreds of miles of streams rendered lifeless by mining prior to the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. As a result, West Virginia’s Cheat River, Maryland’s North Branch of the Potomac, Pennsylvania’s Conemaugh River and Kentucky’s Rock Creek are valuable fisheries.

Ziemkiewicz led the formulation of U.S. Office of Surface Mining’s acid mine drainage (AMD) policy in 1997. He received the 2005 Environmental Conservation Distinguished Service Award from the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration. Ziemkiewicz has also contributed his expertise to agencies and companies in India, China, Poland, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa.

With funding from Colcom Foundation and the U.S. Geological Survey, he launched 3 Rivers QUEST, a program to protect and improve water quality in the Upper Ohio River Basin in 2009. The program monitors the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers and their major tributaries.

In December 2010, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection declared 62 miles of the Monongahela River “impaired” for potable water use due to high salt content. The 3RQ program identified unregulated sulfates from coal mine water treatment facilities during low stream flow as the source of the problem. After meeting with industry representatives, he developed a computer model that adjusted treated discharge rates to river flow, thus maintaining salt levels well below drinking water standards. The industry voluntarily embraced the model and have used it since. As a result, after five years of 3RQ monitoring, PADEP and EPA declared the river no longer impaired.

When asked why he chose to focus on land reclamation and energy issues, he discussed growing up in western Pennsylvania in the 1950’s before any laws in reclamation existed. This gave him first-hand awareness of the need for technology and laws for reclamation. Receiving the 2017 Pioneers in Reclamation Award is extremely important to Ziemkiewicz.

“It is very gratifying to have recognition from my peers. ASMR is the original and internationally recognized organization for land restoration and I have an enormous respect for them.”

Other awards received by Ziemkiewicz include the 1985 E.M. Watkin Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Betterment of Land Reclamation from the Canadian Land Reclamation Association and the 2005 Environmental Conservation Distinguished Service Award from the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration.

Ziemkiewicz said he feels that his flexibility and ability to change focus have been most influential. Next in his career, he hopes to focus on cleaning up acid mine drainage and watersheds and grow fisheries on former mines by using the same technology that turned Cheat Lake into a first-class fishery.

A new kind of mining

Written by Jake Stump, WVU Magazine on . Posted in Media, News

A team at West Virginia University, led by Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute, is studying the occurrence of rare earth elements at 120 acid mine drainage treatment sites throughout West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

These rare earth metals consist of the 17 chemically similar elements at the bottom of the periodic table, such as cerium and scandium. Despite their name, they’re not “rare” because they’re often found in other minerals, within the earth’s crust or, in this case, in coal and coal byproducts.

Yet the U.S. imports nearly all of its rare earth elements. China produces about 83 percent of the world’s rare earth elements used in modern technologies such as phones, batteries, TVs and medical and defense applications.

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Appalachian coal mine waste could provide key ingredients for clean energy

Written by Jim Pierobon, Southeast Energy News on . Posted in Media, News

From left to right: Drs. Xingbo Liu, WVU Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Dept., Aaron Noble, WVU Mining Engineering and Paul Ziemkiewicz, principal investigator
and WVWRI director.

Researchers at state universities in the Southeast are closing in on whether one of the region’s biggest liabilities – coal mine waste – might become a valuable asset by supplying rare earth elements needed for clean energy and other applications.

The answer lies in whether the University of Kentucky, Virginia Tech and West Virginia University, working with federal energy laboratories, a few coal companies and large manufacturers, can identify ways and locations to economically extract and process rare earth elements from the waste streams left over from mining coal throughout Appalachia and Western Kentucky.

“We’re working with members of the coal industry and state agencies that are engaged in treating AMD (acid mine drainage) solids to sample their waste streams, said Paul Ziemkiewicz, the lead researcher who heads the West Virginia University’s (WVU) research with colleagues Xingbo Liu and Aaron Noble at its Water Research Institute in Morgantown.

The collaborative effort faces its first key milestone this summer when it completes the first of two phases under $7 million of federal funding, said Roe-Hoan Yoon, the lead researcher at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The first $1 million is to produce a report summarizing their research findings to date.

Phase two, budgeted at $6 million, is to design a mobile pilot processing plant that could move among several sites, may be at risk if Congress does not pass a budget for the current or next fiscal year, which begins October 1. Yoon estimated the cost to build such a pilot facility at about $20 million.

“When you look at the list of what (REEs) we import, where we import it from, and what it is used for, it quickly becomes clear that we have a very real problem on our hands,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, chair of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing Tuesday. “If we let this go unchecked, we will come to a day of reckoning … when we simply cannot acquire a mineral, or when the market for a mineral changes so dramatically, that entire industries are affected.”

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