West Virginia University (WVU) scientists have successfully lab tested a new way of extracting rare earth elements from coal waste.
“Rare earth elements are critical to the high-tech industry and to national defense, but we heavily rely on China to supply these elements,” notes assistant professor Qingqing Huang.
“Right now we have an urgent need to develop our own supply chain in the country.”
According to the scientists, the occurrence of rare earth elements in coal material is not something new.
But recent restrictions in the supply of rare earth elements has sparked a renewed interest in finding a method to extract these elements from coal and coal byproducts in an economical and sustainable fashion.
Over the past several decades, the global demand for rare earth elements has been on the rise.
They play a vital role not only in defense applications, but also in modern high-tech industries such as cell phones, televisions, batteries and clean energy technologies.
According to Huang, China supplies more than 80% of the global consumption of rare earth elements and has approximately 37% of the worldwide reserves.
To prevent a disruption in the supply of these elements to the U.S., the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is investing millions of dollars in projects like WVU’s to develop a domestic source from coal and coal refuse.
“We have been successful in the lab producing highly enriched rare earth products, now we are moving to scale up that testing,” says Huang.
“This is exciting because it is something that has not been done in the past and will provide a critical domestic source of rare earth elements if successful.”
Huang has been awarded the 2019 Freeport-McMoRan Inc. Career Development Grant by the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration, to support her research in examining the occurrence of rare earth elements in coal and coal byproducts.
She will receive $300,000 over the course of three years to better participate in research activities which are necessary to achieve tenure and promotion.
Image and content: Shutterstock via West Virginia Record/WVU