The U.S. Department of Energy awarded researchers from Virginia Tech and the University of Kentucky $6 million to expand a pilot-scale project seeking to extract rare earth elements from coal byproducts.
Rare earth elements are used in many electronic devices but are difficult to mine. According to a Virginia Tech press release, the United States currently has no domestic source for these elements and depends on foreign trade for their supply.
The researchers will partner with Alliance Coal and Blackhawk Mining to operate rare earth extraction plants at two Kentucky coal-washing facilities.
“Funding for a pilot plant means that the possibilities of applying this technology are more promising than ever before. This project has shown great potential for the future of the coalfields and for our economy,” Virginia Representative Morgan Griffith said in a press statement. — Elizabeth E. Payne