“The projects, expected to be completed by 2020, fall under two areas of interest: (1) bench-scale technology to economically separate, extract, and concentrate mixed REEs from coal and coal byproducts, including aqueous effluents; and (2) pilot-scale technology to economically separate, extract, and concentrate mixed REEs from coal and coal byproduct solids,” the DOE reported.
Three of the four projects slated for the second phase funding opportunity are run by state universities. A University of North Dakota project could receive $2.75 million to test its system that uses lignite as feedstock. The West Virginia University Research Corp. could receive $2.66 million to test its system that uses acid mine drainage solids. The University of Kentucky Research could receive $6 million to test a pilot plant that uses coal washing byproducts and dry, fine coal. Technology solutions company Physical Sciences Inc. could receive $6 million to test its system that uses fly ash.
The announcement is the second in three months that reveals the DOE plans to continue to subsidize such research. In June, it announced first round funding opportunities totaling roughly $3 million that were slated to go to three different projects tasked with designing modular plants for use in coal mines.
DOE also conducts in-house research into processes and technologies that could be used in REE reclamation from coal.
The idea of establishing a domestic source and value chain for REEs has made national headlines in recent weeks. Last month, lobbyists met with U.S. government officials and the president to push for a plan to launch additional subsidized research into REE mining and processing domestically. The push is, in part, a response to the Mountain Pass REEs open-pit mine, previously owned by Molycorp, being acquired in mid-June at a bankruptcy auction by a consortium spearheaded by China’s Leshan Shenghe Rare Earth Shareholding Co. Rival bidder, Tom Clarke, owner of ERP Strategic Minerals, said he would contest the result in court.
REEs are used in computer and high technology componentry, to include Industry 4.0 infrastructure, critical military technologies and personal devices. Currently, China leads the world in both mining and processing of REEs, prompting many American companies to operate or contract factories there.