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  • “Materials Science Profiles of Progress” – REE Extraction From Coal

    In the fairy tale realm, Rumpelstilskin was able to turn straw into gold.

    Meanwhile, in the real world, as part of our feature series “Materials Science Profiles of Progress,” we’re taking a closer look at a recently-announced research partnership that may not be able to turn straw into gold, but promises to extract precious Rare Earth Elements from coal.

    A new Department of Energy grant-funded program bringing together a consortium of research entities and private companies including Penn State University, Texas Minerals Resources Corp., Inventure Renewables, and K Technologies seeks to evaluate ways to extract Rare Earth Elements from coal overburden, the material that sits atop a coal seam, provided by Pennsylvania-based Jeddo Coal Co.

    According to the Republican Herald, “[t]he processing method is being developed in conjunction with Penn State and relies on continuous ion exchange and ion chromatography — which is believed to be cleaner and more efficient than the solvent exchange method that is presently used for processing rare earth elements.”

    While touring Jeddo Coal Co.’s mining facilities near Stockton Mountain in Pennsylvania, which are currently idling but are set to become the site of operation for the consortium, Energy Secretary Rick Perry touted the program which he considered “staggeringly important” and the role it could play in reducing our nation’s over-reliance on foreign imports of REE materials used in high-tech 21st Century applications:

    “I don’t think we can overstate how important the development of rare earth minerals out of our anthracite coal is, and the potential that it’s going to have. (…) I think it’s a really important message coming from this administration that whether it’s rare minerals, whether it’s that load of coal that’s headed to Ukraine, the future is bright. (…) We’re going to find the ways to use this natural resource that we have to the betterment not just to America, but to our allies as well.”

    Perry was joined by Rep. Lou Barletta (R, PA-11), who was one of the earliest congressional backers of the program. Barletta argued at the time of the grant announcement:

    “The Department of Energy’s studies have shown that the Appalachian coal fields throughout northeastern Pennsylvania contain some of the highest concentrations of Rare Earth Elements. (…) These elements are critical components of everyday electronics and equipment used in the health care, transportation, and defense industries.  With our abundance of anthracite, we have the potential to create and support good-paying jobs, not just in the coal industry, but in manufacturing and related industries that rely on these elements.

    It is critical for our national security that we turn to a domestic source of these minerals. Our military should not have to rely on China or any other country for the resources necessary to keep us safe, especially when those resources are readily available right here in Pennsylvania.” 

    Similar projects are in the works around the country, with a West Virginia University’s Energy Institute project having moved into phase two of its efforts to recover REEs from coal mine drainage.  The Department of Energy is looking to award a substantially bigger grant of $20 million to the project that shows the greatest potential for extracting Rare Earths from coal in an economically viable fashion.

    None of these projects may be able to compete with Rumpelstiltskin, but we also don’t live in a fairy tale world.  Considering that – after a brief dip thanks to a now-bankrupt domestic REE mining operation – our import dependency for REEs is back at 100%, it is quite an encouraging real-world development to see that policy makers, private sector executives and public university scientists are realizing the importance of this issue, and we’ll keep monitoring the progress of these projects.

  • Materials Science Profiles of Progress: CMI Public-Private Partnership Studies New Ways to Capture Gateway Metals and Critical Co-Products

    As part of our latest feature series “Materials Science Profiles of Progress,” in the context of which we highlight positive steps towards the development of the comprehensive mineral resource strategy our country is so sorely lacking, we’re zeroing in on a promising public private partnership that recently celebrated its first birthday.

    In October of last year, the Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute (CMI)  announced it would join forces with global mining and minerals company Rio Tinto to study new ways to capture Gateway Metals and Co-products that are increasingly becoming indispensable in clean power manufacturing.

    As Ames Lab described the project last year,

    “the new initiative aims to ensure that the United States fully leverages domestic mineral and metal resources necessary for global leadership in clean energy manufacturing.

    The Rio Tinto-CMI research partnership will combine Rio Tinto’s operational expertise with CMI’s research capabilities, materials science expertise and computing power.  Focused on the efficient extraction of critical materials from the copper smelting process, the research will have three core work-streams:  

    1.            Improving recovery rates of critical minerals and metals (rhenium, selenium, tellurium, scandium, etc.) from samples sourced from Rio Tinto’s operating Kennecott Copper Mine in Utah and the Resolution Copper project currently under regulatory review and permitting in Arizona.

    2.            Exploring potential for increasing recovery rates of rare minerals and metals through processing waste tailings.

    3.            Examining process improvements that would facilitate the blending of processed electronic waste (‘e-waste’) with copper concentrates to substantially increase the recovery of valuable metals such as gold, copper, silver, platinum, lithium and rare earths present in spent cellphones, computers and solar panels.”

    CMI’s collaborations with private sector companies have already proven to be valuable tools in the effort to alleviate supply risks for critical raw materials:

    According to a GAO report released last year, as of May 1, 2016 CMI “research projects had already resulted in 42 invention disclosures, 17 patent applications, and 1 licensed technology.” Moreover, two recent CMI technologies developed in the context of ongoing public-private partnerships have been named 2017 R&D 100 Award finalists. The award is presented annually “to the top 100 scientific innovations as selected by independent panel of more than 50 judges representing R&D leaders in a variety of fields.”

    As those who have followed ARPN’s “Through the Gateway” informational campaign will know, while demand for Co-Product Metals is increasing, the United States not only has a significant degree of import dependency for many of them, but also for the respective Gateway Metal – all of which has implications for both the United States’ competitiveness and national security.

    Against this backdrop, CMI’s research partnership with Rio Tinto is a promising endeavor, tying into the research hub’s overall mandate to address our nation’s critical mineral needs.

  • 2016 – A Mixed Bag for Mineral Resource Policy

    It’s that time of the year again.  And as people are gearing up for the New Year, we are taking the opportunity to take stock of the last twelve months, and want to highlight a few select notable developments of relevance to ARPN followers. From a mineral resource policy perspective, we saw some positive developments [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Rio Tinto Partners with Critical Materials Institute (CMI) in Research Partnership to Recover Wide Range of Gateway Metals from Domestic Resources

    For the past few months, the American Resources Policy Network has highlighted the concept of “Gateway Metals” and “Co-Products” in the context of our “Through the Gateway”-campaign.  It would appear that people in government and the business community are taking note:  The Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute (CMI) has just announced it will join with global mining and minerals company Rio [...]
  • White House solar panel installation fraught with irony

    With August generally being the slower part of the news cycle, one of the bigger stories last week was that the installation of solar panels on the roof of the White House had begun. Administration officials say in retrofitting the White House building to make it more energy efficient, the President is delivering on a [...]
  • Environmentalists push energy efficiency but block development of mineral resources required for clean energy transition

    The issue of the White House blocking several Department of Energy regulations was raised at a recent Congressional hearing, the New York Times reports. The rules in question would require greater energy efficiency for appliances, as well as building and lighting. Critics argue that in spite of a 1993 executive order requiring the White House [...]
  • DoE social media event elaborates on agency’s new critical minerals research hub

    Earlier this week, the Department of Energy hosted a social media web event, or “Hangout,” to provide further details on its latest research effort to “address supply disruptions for rare earths and other critical materials” at Ames Laboratory. During the event, David Sandalow, DoE’s Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs, and Alex King, the [...]
  • DoE awards funding for new Critical Materials Institute (CMI) at Ames Laboratory

    The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) is stepping up its research efforts in the field of critical and strategic materials. As announced on January 9, the Department is funding the establishment of an “Energy Innovation Hub” through Ames Laboratory in Ames, Iowa. Named the Critical Materials Institute (CMI), the new research center will “bring together [...]
  • Department of Energy to Step Up Critical Minerals Research

    The U.S. Department of Energy has announced stepped-up research efforts into critical metals and minerals. Planning to spend up to $120 million, the department aims to create an “Energy Innovation Hub” with the goal to advance green energy technologies relying on critical mineral resources including (but not limited to) rare earths. Says Secretary of Energy [...]
  • Our dangerous metals deficiency: DOE releases its new critical minerals strategy

    The Department of Energy officially released its 2011 Critical Materials Strategy, an update of last December’s inaugural report on metals essential to green-tech applications ranging from wind and solar power to EV batteries and CFL lighting.  Five metals made the critical risk quadrant for both the short-term (today to 2015) and medium-term (2015 to 2025); [...]