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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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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Ziemkiewicz analyzes data from untreated mine water used as a drinking source for Inside Appalachia

Written by Tracy Novak, NRCCE Communications on . Posted in Media, News

Morgantown, W.Va. – As mining companies close and leave Appalachia, water systems in these company towns are often abandoned. Eight water systems in southern West Virginia are “intractable,” meaning the systems are no longer maintained and the water is no longer treated, leaving residents vulnerable. In Garwood (Wyoming County), water comes from an abandoned coal mine.

Inside Appalachia, a program on West Virginia Public Broadcasting, examined the question, “Is water from an abandoned coal mine fit to drink?” Reporter Anne Li asked Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute, to comment on water testing results from coal mine water that feeds into Garwood’s derelict water system.

With the limited data provided, according to Ziemkiewicz, the worst containment in the water from 2000 to 2008 was coliform. This bacteria can be a sign of sewage contaminating the water supply. Data from 2008 to 2014 showed no signs of coliform, but because the water is still untreated, Garwood has been on a boil water advisory since 2015.

Hear more details on Inside Appalachia’s: “Coal’s Legacy in Appalachia: As Mining Companies Close, Water Systems Fail.” “Mine water as a drinking source” segment starts at 36.05. Ziemkiewicz’s comments at 37:01.

-NRCCE-

tn/2/20/17