Biden-Harris administration invests $16 million to build United States' first-of-a-kind critical minerals production facility
As part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced $16 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to bring critical mineral supply chains to America. The funding will support projects in West Virginia and North Dakota for the development of a first-of-a-kind rare earth element and critical minerals extraction and separation refinery.
The projects are designed to help strengthen the United States’ clean energy supply chain, revitalize energy communities and enhance national security.
“Today’s funding will support a first-in-the-nation facility that will convert legacy fossil fuel waste into a domestic source of critical minerals needed to strengthen our clean energy supply chains,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “President Biden’s Investing in America agenda is helping reduce our overreliance on adversarial nations and positioning the country as a global manufacturing leader—while supporting communities that have helped power our nation for generations.”
The United States imports more than 80 percent of its rare earth elements and critical minerals to produce clean energy technologies and other indispensable products that we rely on every day such as smart phones, computers and medical equipment.
Across the country, there are billions of tons of coal waste and ash, mine tailings, acid mine drainage, and discharged water. These waste streams from mining, energy production, and related activities contain a wide variety of valuable rare earth elements and other critical minerals that can be produced and used to build clean energy technologies, while helping to create healthier environments for communities across the country.
The recently announced projects will study how critical minerals can be extracted from coal mine waste streams as the first of two project phases.
• The University of North Dakota (Grand Forks, North Dakota) will complete a study to recover and refine rare earth elements and critical minerals from North Dakota lignite mine wastes. The project aims to advance technologies that can enable a cost-competitive, environmentally sensitive process to produce rare earth metals and critical minerals from domestic coal waste. (Award amount: $7,999,999).
• West Virginia University (Morgantown, West Virginia) will complete a study for producing rare earth elements and critical minerals using acid mine drainage and mineral tailings feedstocks with at-source pollution treatment. Intermediate products will be processed to high-purity oxides, salts or metals depending on specific market needs. (Award amount: $8,000,000)
“West Virginia University has provided a mining engineering education to generations of students for more than 150 years, helping to build a strong and innovative mining industry that powered our nation and made us a global energy leader. This $8 million award, using funding from my Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will continue that legacy and help to develop the energy technologies of the future with a first-of-its-kind facility to extract and separate rare earth elements and critical minerals from acid mine drainage and mine waste,” said U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (WV). “By deploying this innovative technology to reclaim water from mining waste, we will ensure that we are producing these materials in the cleanest way possible while addressing environmental liabilities. West Virginia and West Virginia University are continuing to lead the way in energy innovation, and I can’t wait to see how the entire nation benefits.”
“Along with their industry partners and the U.S. Department of Energy, the University of North Dakota is on the cutting edge of our energy future,” said U.S. Senator Kevin Cramer (ND). “This award builds on the group’s efforts to research, find and affordably extract rare earth elements and minerals in North Dakota. The significance of developing this domestic supply chain for national and energy security cannot be overstated.”
“Their work will not only help address acid mine drainage across West Virginia, but the eventual construction and operation of the pre-commercial demonstration facility will create employment in regions of West Virginia impacted by the United States’ transition away from fossil fuels,” said West Virginia University Vice President for Research Fred King. “We are grateful for the U.S. Department of Energy and our state and federal government leaders for helping WVU advance this novel approach to extracting rare earth elements and critical minerals from acid mine drainage.”
The Phase I projects will be managed by DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM) and the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) in collaboration with the Office of Manufacturing and Energy Supply Chains (MESC).
Over a period of about 15 months, detailed engineering and cost studies will identify risks and costs, and will solidify plans for developing economically viable processes to extract, separate, and produce rare earth elements and critical minerals from the nation’s vast quantities of mining wastes that won’t be harmful to the environment. Following completion of the studies and a period of technical review, these projects will have the opportunity to apply for Phase II funding for construction and operation of the demonstration-scale facility.
The two selected project teams were required as part of their applications to submit community benefits plans to demonstrate meaningful engagement with and tangible benefits to the communities in which these projects will be located. These plans provide details on their commitments to community and labor engagement, quality job creation, diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, and benefits to disadvantaged communities as part of the Justice40 initiative. The selected projects are required to develop and implement strategies to ensure strong community and worker benefits, and report on such activities and outcomes.
The University of North Dakota runs the Energy and Environmental Research Center of North Dakota (EERC) where personnel are conducting “exploratory, transformational and innovative research that advances future energy opportunities to benefit North Dakota’s economy and environment,” per the University. The EERC researches and develops technologies to make energy production and use more efficient and environmentally friendly.
The EERC is recognized as one of the world’s foremost developers of cleaner, more efficient energy to power the world and environmental technologies to protect and clean our air, water and soil. A current effort includes the EERC and Climeworks announcing a collaboration to explore direct air capture and storage technology.
You can read more about West Virginia University’s funding here
Image courtesy of the University of North Dakota.