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.