West Virginia Executive Spring 2017 - Page 49

Rock-Solid Resources KATLIN SWISHER TRACY NOVAK A sample of acid mine drainage sludge being tested as a potential source for rare earth elements. Rare Earth Elements Offer Economic Development Potential for West Virginia While most computers—and the tech- nologies that use them—are comprised of aluminum and plastic, the key in- gredients that make them work are rare earth elements, or REEs. REEs are chemical elements with strong magnetic properties that make them essential for cell phones, smart watches, rechargeable batteries, medical equipment and many defense appli- cations, but they are dispersed throughout the earth’s crust in such a way that economically attractive concentrations are rare. Demand for REEs continues to grow, but mining and processing these elements is expensive and difficult. As a result, the U.S. cur- rently imports 95 percent of its REEs from China at costs varying from $30 to thousands of dollars per kilogram. Meanwhile, the annual production of REEs from acid mine drainage in the Northern Appalachian Coal Basin alone is about 2,000-4,000 tons, while the accumulated amount stored in cells at mines is many times that. As a result, West Virginia could become the country’s go-to resource for REEs without the expense or environmental cost of opening new mines. To determine whether acid mine drainage can support an REE recovery industry, researchers from the West Virginia Water Research Institute (WVWRI) at West Virginia Universi- ty (WVU) are studying the feasibility of extracting REEs from solid residues left over after treatment of acid mine drainage. “Acid mine drainage is produced in vast quantities in West Virginia and surrounding states,” says Dr. Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the WVWRI. “While it seems commonplace, it’s a unique resource. There aren’t many places around the country where acid mine drainage contains highly enriched REE values.” Through a $937,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, WVWRI researchers are evaluating the REE reserves at 120 acid mine drainage treatment sites throughout West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio while developing commercially viable refining methods. The best sample the team has identified so far is located near an abandoned surface mine in Upshur County. The DLM Coal Corporation bond-forfeiture site has sludge content containing two kilograms of REEs per ton of solid residue. The REE value, not counting transportation and refining costs, is about $1.7 million. “If successful, the project will lead to new economic development opportunities for Appalachia’s coal towns,” says Ziemkiewicz. “While the coal market may fluctuate over time, acid mine drainage will be nearly constant. Long after mining is done, there will still Ʌѥ)ͽɍ́I̸MȁɥЁͥ́ɽ)ͥѕ́ݡɔ͕啅́t)ѡȁЁɅѥÍɽɅ)́ѡѥ٥饹Ʌɕѵиѥٔ)́ɔɕեɕѼɕЁɅɕձѥѡ)ɕхѥɅͽ̰ݡЁ͕)9ɵɅɕѵЁɅѕ́Íѡ)ͽɕͥՕ́䁄ѽȁЀİѥ̸QɅѥ)Í́ѡѕѥѼѥ٥锁Ʌɕд)аѥձɱ䁥́եЁɥȁѼѡ )]ѕȁЁȁMə5 ɽIѥи+qMѡ䁡ѡɅѡЁ)ٕȁݕѼȁɕ́ɥٕ́́܁ɕѕt)́ͅiݥ踃q9́ɕͥȁɕѥ)Ʌɽ̸Q䁩Ё)յЁ݅ѕȁѼɕ̰ѡɗéѥٔ)ѼѡЁѡɥЁܸ]ѠѡḬѡɔ)́ѥٔѼɕ锁ͽɕٕՔٔ役ѡ)́ɕ͕ѡɽЁɕɸt)Q́܁䁍ձͥձхͱ䁥ɽٔѡхїe)٥ɽхѱȁ́Ѽ+q]ٔѡѕѥȁݡ܁ѡЁɕ)ɽٔ݅ѕȁɕѵаéٕ́́)ѽݹ́ݡɔѡ́䁡ٔ͡Ёݸtiݥ)̸ͅq]䁡ٔݡ܁ɕٕՔɕ)ٕЁչѥ́ѡЁЁݕɕeЁѡɔɔ)ݽձeЁѡɔݔeЁٔɕ͕ɍѥѥ)]YT]ɔɕѥչݡɔѡɔ)݅ͻeЁ䁉ɔt)]]\]Ya UQ%Y =4$)L@H$8Ȁ(