Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute, updates a state legislative committee on the institute-led effort to assess the feasibility of scaling up acid mine drainage treatment technology last year. Ziemkiewicz said recent treatment results have been economically encouraging. (WV Legislative Photography)
by Mike Tony, published in the Charleston Gazette, October 19, 2022
Charleston, W.Va. - The federal government is betting that the many millions of dollars it's investing in turning mine waste into clean energy technology will pay off in a big way.
The Department of Energy last week released a notice of intent to fund a $32 million
program to produce valuable rare earth elements and other critical minerals and
materials from coal-based sources.
The agency already announced up to $156 million in funding was available for a first-of-a-kind facility to be determined to extract and separate rare earth elements and critical minerals in September.
But when Paul Ziemkiewicz reports economically encouraging results in his water research center's effort to incentivize treating acid mine drainage in mine drainage-addled West Virginia, the big numbers give way to a tiny percentage.
"The grade we got from this first batch was 0.8%," Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute at West Virginia University, said in a phone interview last week. "What we're targeting is 1%."
Ziemkiewicz was talking about the percentage of rare earth elements extracted relative to useless metals at an acid mine drainage treatment plant near Mount Storm earlier this month.
Getting into a target window of 1% and 2% would allow the rare earth elements vital to building clean energy components and national defense products to be shipped at an economic rate to a central refinery. The refinery would then become the marketplace for the concentrate.
That's Ziemkiewicz's vision for a West Virginia-based supply chain that would turn the longtime economic and environmental liability of mine drainage into a sudden asset.
Go to the Charleston Gazette for the rest of the story.
The West Virginia Water Research Institute is a program of the WVU Energy Institute.