Posts Tagged ‘Rare Earth Elements’

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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WVU Study will Determine amount of rare earth elements in the region’s coal mining waste

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

(Photo credit - WVU University Relations Communications)

(Photo credit – WVU University Relations Communications)

MORGANTOWN, W.VA. –The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory recently awarded West Virginia University (WVU) a project to survey acid mine drainage (AMD) solids to identify the concentration and amount of rare earth elements available in AMD solids.

The new project will sample and analyze AMD solids from 120 AMD treatment sites at coal mines across the northern and central Appalachian coal basins in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio. This follows a February 2016 NETL award to WVU to explore the potential to recover and extract rare earth elements from AMD solids, a project that is currently underway.

Acid mine drainage from pre-law coal mines is a major stream pollutant in the Appalachian region. However, when treated to meet current regulatory requirements, it yields solids that have proven enriched in critical rare earth elements.

“We will work with members of the coal industry and state agencies that are engaged in treating AMD to sample their solids” said Dr. Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute and principal investigator on the project.

This new effort is in support of the DOE’s ongoing program to recover rare earth elements from coal and coal by-products.

Rare earth elements are vital to the technology industry. These elements have numerous applications and are used in devices such as cell phones, medical equipment and defense applications. Conventional rare earth recovery methods are difficult, expensive and generate large volumes of contaminated waste.
In addition to providing a domestic supply of these critical industrial materials, this approach would incentivize AMD treatment and offset treatment costs while continuing to improve the quality of Appalachian streams.

Appalachian coal mines commonly generate AMD, when sulfide minerals in rock are exposed to air and water. This acid leaches rare earths from coal associated rock where it collects as AMD. Active coal mines are required to treat this AMD, which concentrates and precipitates rare earth elements.

“Together, the rare earths in AMD solids range in value from $45 to $125/kg and our early sampling indicated that AMD solids contain between 0.3 and 1.5 kg of total rare earth elements per ton of AMD solid” said Ziemkiewicz.

Ziemkiewicz, along with co-investigators Xingbo Liu, professor of mechanical engineering, and Aaron Noble, professor of mining engineering, in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources will estimate the volume of acid mine drainage that is available in the northern and central Appalachian coalfields, as well as the purity and amount of rare earth elements that could be recovered. The research team will be assisted by Ben Faulkner, an independent contractor from Princeton, West Virginia, who has extensive experience with acid mine drainage treatment plants across the Appalachian region.

“Acid mine drainage solids are generated at treatment plants, and Ben’s familiarity with these facilities will be a tremendous asset to the project,” said Ziemkiewicz.

CONTACT: Paul Ziemkiewicz, West Virginia Water Research Institute
304.293.6958, Paul.Ziemkiewicz@mail.wvu.edu