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WVU gets $8M federal grant for rare earth elements demonstration project facility

MORGANTOWN – Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito announced on Tuesday that WVU will receive an $8 million U.S. Department of Energy grant to advance its rare earth elements extraction demonstration project.

Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute at WVU and project lead, explained the project.

The funding will lead to the design, construction and operation of a pre-commercial demonstration facility for separating and refining rare earth elements and critical minerals, he said. “Our team has selected several candidate sites in West Virginia for this facility and has initiated engagement with a broad range of stakeholders including state and local legislative bodies, environmental and community-based economic development groups, AMD-treatment [acid mine drainage] operators, trade unions, technology providers and more.”

They project, he said, that the demonstration facility will produce between 5.4% and 7.3% of the global requirements for terbium and dysprosium, two of the most sought-after and critical REEs.

“Using AMD as a feedstock has several community and environmental advantages,” he said “Treating AMD will result in cleaner waterways. AMD also has 45%-plus composition of the desirable heavy rare earth (HREE) elements most utilized in green energy and defense technologies. This project will not only create valuable, new jobs for coal workers displaced by the energy transition but will build upon previously established relationships for strong community engagement, outreach and workforce development.”

USDOE said in its announcement of the grant that the money comes from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, to bring critical mineral supply chains to America and reduce reliance on competitors like China.

The DOE’s statement reads, “The United States imports more than 80% 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.”

Manchin said the award is Phase 1 of a larger endeavor. Following completion of Phase 1, the project will have the opportunity to apply for Phase 2 which will assist with the construction and operation of the demonstration-scale facility.

“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,” Manchin said. “This $8 million award … will continue that legacy and help to develop the energy technologies of the future with a first-of-its-kind facility. … 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.”

Capito said, “I’m thrilled that the Department of Energy continues to recognize the value of the critical work WVU is doing in extracting rare earth elements and critical minerals from acid mine drainage. These elements are essential to modern advanced manufacturing, and this first-of-a-kind facility at WVU will play an important role in this process. I look forward to seeing this project advance with WVU at the helm.”

As part of the same effort, USDOE also provided a $7,999,999 grant to the University of North Dakota to 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.

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