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Brian and UCFER Hands
NETL leadership and experts, including NETL Director Brian Anderson, Ph.D., joined representatives from 11 universities as they gathered virtually to discuss project successes during the 2021 University Coalition for Fossil Energy Research (UCFER) Annual Technical Review Meeting this week. NETL Deputy Director and Chief Technology Officer Sean Plasynski, Ph.D., kicked off the second day of the meeting with opening remarks, proceeded by an administrative update from UCFER DOE Project Officer Omer Bakshi. “UCFER has provided significant results since its inception six years ago,” Bakshi said. “To date, 18 of the 43 funded projects have been completed, and 25 are ongoing. The presentations we saw this week confirmed that the research of our partner universities will continue to lead to important breakthroughs for the decarbonization of the economy.”
NETL Director Brian Anderson, Ph.D., will welcome representatives from 11 universities for the virtual 2021 University Coalition for Fossil Energy Research (UCFER) Annual Technical Review Meeting Oct. 5-6, 2021. “Partnerships like UCFER help the Lab leverage its connections, resources and expertise to develop critical carbon management technologies,” Anderson said. “The dedication of our University partners across UCFER to our mission is an inspiration when we see the innovations from see the best and brightest minds from universities across the country.” During the two-day event, researchers for selected active projects will give virtual presentations on technologies spanning topics that will include carbon capture, carbon storage, crosscutting research, carbon ore processing, fuel cell technologies, gasification systems, coal and coal-biomass to liquids, natural gas technologies, and rare earth elements.
NETL’s Research & Innovation Center’s (RIC) work to develop domestic supply chains of critical minerals (CMs) and rare earth elements (REEs) from unconventional sources such as carbon ore ash, acid mine drainage and other sources has resulted in several milestones in technological applications of sensors and geoscience. REE’s are essential to the energy, defense, medical and consumer technology manufacturing industries. Supply and access to those elements are critical for the U.S. economy. However, a majority of the world’s REE sources are controlled by other countries, which is why NETL is pursuing alternative sources closer to home. The RIC has identified America’s rich deposits of carbon ore, along with acid mine drainage from prior and current mining operations, as potential sources of REEs and other critical minerals. In collaboration with partners in academia and industry across the country, the RIC has had three goals throughout its research efforts:
NETL’s Mary Anne Alvin sees a brighter future ahead for the nation’s energy communities that have powered the nation for more than a century as the U.S.  undergoes a historic transformation to clean energy. Alvin’s optimism is rooted in the fact that residual and waste byproducts, such as power plant ash and acid mine drainage, are prime sources to obtain rare earth elements (REEs) and critical minerals (CMs), vital materials used to manufacture consumer products such as smartphones, batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles, computer monitors and hard drives, high-performance optics and lasers, powerful magnets and components for defense systems. REEs and CMs from those sources also are needed to produce key components for windmills, solar panels and other green energy equipment to achieve the Biden Administration’s goal of a net-zero carbon emission electricity sector by 2035 and the broader economy by 2050.
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The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM) announced the selection of six projects to receive a total of nearly $1 million in federal funding for cost-shared research and development (R&D) under funding opportunity announcement (FOA) 2404, Advanced Processing of Rare Earth Elements and Critical Minerals for Industrial and Manufacturing Applications. Critical minerals (CM) are necessary to manufacture high-tech devices, especially technologies for national defense applications and green growth-related industries. However, the United States does not domestically produce fourteen of these CMs and imports more than 50 percent of many others. This dearth of domestic production leaves the nation dependent on imports to meet its demand. CMs include rare earth elements (REE), which are used to manufacture cell phones, LED screens, solar panels, energy infrastructure, defense technologies and other essential high-tech applications. The United States imports 80 percent of its REEs from China, with portions of the remainder indirectly sourced from China through other countries.                
The National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) is partnering with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Duke University and the University of Arizona to develop a reactor that will selectively concentrate rare earth elements (REEs) in an environmentally benign way. REEs are extracted from coal waste and used in various industries—such as energy, defense and medical—to perform vital functions in order for products to function. Making use of this coal waste, to recover REEs will continue to perform clean energy functions and create jobs for workers in coal communities. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and NETL, with partners and collaborators at national laboratories, academia and other industries, are working on projects to develop a domestic supply of these resources, which are abundant in carbon ore and their by-products.
In partnership with NETL, researchers at Idaho National Laboratory (INL), Rutgers, Arizona State University, OLI Systems and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory are developing new sensing methods of detecting rare earth elements (REEs) contained within America’s fossil energy resources using luminescent detection. REEs include the lanthanide elements along with scandium and yttrium. These elements are used in a wide variety of strategic and economically vital industries such as energy, defense, medical technology and consumer electronics. With most existing REE supplies controlled by foreign countries, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and NETL have funded numerous research projects that will create a domestic REE supply chain using the nation’s historic energy resources. INL sought to develop a new simple, sensitive and rapid approach for detecting REEs in any kind of carbon-based solid or liquid. This approach had to be applicable to diverse chemical and mineral matrices that will effectively detect REEs in aqueous solutions at less than one part per million (ppm) and distinguish it between multiple REEs co-occurring in the same sample.
Rare Earths
The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM) has awarded nearly $18 million to advance eight projects to extract Rare Earth Elements (REEs) and other Critical Minerals (CMs) from materials such as coal waste materials and support revitalization in regions across the country that face economic adversity due to declines in coal and power plants communities. Each of the eight projects had previously worked with DOE to develop a conceptional design of a technology to produce at least 1-3 metric tons per day of mixed rare earth oxides or rare earth salts and other critical minerals (CMs) from mostly coal-based sources. Rare earth elements and critical minerals are vital in the construction of medical equipment, energy components, defense technologies, modern electronics and a host of other consumer goods. 
In partnership with NETL, researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) are building a new prototype sensor for rapid in-field detection and characterization of rare earth elements (REEs) in fossil fuel-based resources and waste materials. REEs are vital in the construction of medical equipment, energy components, defense technologies, modern electronics and a host of other consumer goods. In many cases, these REEs cannot be substituted with other minerals, and other countries control most of the world’s REE supplies. The LANL researchers are combining their expertise to develop a backpack-size field-portable unit to provide simultaneous chemical and mineralogical analysis of REEs. Specifically, the LANL team is leveraging their research in laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) combined with Raman spectrometry.
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The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today awarded $19 million for 13 projects in traditionally fossil fuel-producing communities across the country to support production of rare earth elements and critical minerals vital to the manufacturing of batteries, magnets, and other components important to the clean energy economy. Facing persistent shortages in domestic supply, the U.S. has been forced to rely on imported materials, leaving clean energy technology production at greater risk of disruption. Projects will be managed by DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). “The very same fossil fuel communities that have powered our nation for decades can be at the forefront of the clean energy economy by producing the critical minerals needed to build electric vehicles, wind turbines, and so much more,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “By building clean energy products here at home, we’re securing the supply chain for the innovative solutions needed to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 – all while creating good-paying jobs in all parts of America.”