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WVU researcher testifies before US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on extracting critical minerals from acid mine drainage

An image of acid mine drainage in West Virginia

Acid mine drainage is a major pollutant, but West Virginia University is ahead-of-the-curve in researching ways to extract rare earth elements from the sludge with the added benefit of returning clean water to rivers and streams. (WVU Photo)

Morgantown, W.Va. - Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the  West Virginia Water Research Institute, a program of the Energy Institute at West Virginia University, spoke on March 31, before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in Washington, D.C.

The purpose of the hearing was to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing domestic critical mineral mining, processing, refining and reprocessing. 

“We (West Virginia University) pioneered the idea of using acid mine drainage as feedstock. We’ve developed a process for economically recovering the mixed rare earths and critical materials in an environmentally-benign way,” Ziemkiewicz said.

Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virgnia Water Research Institute Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute, a program of the Energy Institute at the West Virginia Un iversity

“We don’t need to mine anything or disturb a lot of ground and we don’t produce radioactive byproducts like most conventional rare earth mines. Also, acid mine drainage provides the rare earths in a form that is easily recovered so, no new mining is required, no rock grinding nor intensive processing. As a result, our carbon footprint is much less than a conventional mining and milling operation.” 

WVU research teams have developed advanced separation approaches to recover rare earth elements and other critical minerals from one of the most economically viable coal-related sources, acid mine drainage, demonstrating potential in future process commercialization.

Rare earth elements and critical materials are required to support domestic manufacturing of advanced technology needed for industrial and defense production. Without them, the U.S. is almost entirely dependent on China for not only REE/CM but strategically important manufactured products.

“Rare earths and critical materials are the building blocks of advanced technologies. Without a domestic supply chain, we will lose the ability to sustain commercial and defense-related industries. At that point, we will be at the mercy of foreign powers,” said Ziemkiewicz.

“The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law support for AMD remediation has the potential to restore whole watersheds by installing centralized treatment plants that treat AMD from AMLs and post 1977 bond forfeitures. These central plants could also recover rare earths and critical materials on a large scale. However, policy guidance is needed to define the regulatory compliance endpoints. For example, these plans could be instrumental in TMDL implementation.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), committee chair, gave opening remarks along with ranking member Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). Others who testified were:

  • Steve Fortier, director, USGS National Minerals Information Center, U.S. Dept. of Interior;
  • Scott Melbye, president, Uranium Producers of America;
  • Julie Padilla, chief regulatory officer, Twin Metals Minnesota and
  • Abigail Wulf, vice president of critical minerals strategy, Securing America’s Future Energy.

CONTACT:  Tracy Novak, Communications Director
WVU Energy Institute

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