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DOE Invests More Than $17 Million for Rare Earth Element and Critical Mineral and Material Processing Technologies Using Coal and Coal Byproducts as Feedstocks
Funding Opportunity Announcement

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today announced $17.5 million for four projects that will help lower the costs and reduce the environmental impacts of the onshore production of rare earths and other critical minerals and materials from coal, coal wastes, and coal by-products. The projects, funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will help meet the growing demand for critical minerals and materials in the United States, while reducing our reliance on foreign supply chains. Rare earths and other critical minerals and materials are key to our nation’s defense and to U.S. manufacturing of clean energy technologies—such as solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles, and hydrogen fuel cells to advance President Biden’s historic climate agenda.

“Imagine that: turning the byproducts from coal into a domestic source for the critical minerals needed for clean energy technologies. That’s exactly what the President’s Investing in America agenda is helping make a reality,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “The investments announced today will increase our national security while helping rebuild America’s manufacturing sector and revitalize energy and mining communities across the country.”

The United States currently imports more than 80% of its rare earth elements, but rare earth elements naturally occur all around us, including in our domestic coal, coal wastes, and coal by-products, which comprise more than 250 billion tons of coal reserves, over 4 billion tons of waste coal, and about 2 billion tons of coal ash. DOE seeks to tap these secondary and unconventional resources to help build a domestic supply chain critical to the U.S. economy, clean energy, and national security.

Advanced Processing of Rare Earth Elements and Critical Minerals for Industrial and Manufacturing Applications

Four projects were selected for negotiation to conduct advanced laboratory and bench-scale testing to improve the economic viability of rare earth element and critical minerals and materials separation and refining technologies, which also have the potential to help remediate legacy mining and energy wastes, even as they enable the recovery of urgently needed domestic minerals and the rebuilding of secure U.S. supply chains. The projects will use secondary and unconventional coal-based resources to produce rare earths and critical minerals and materials for use in clean energy, national defense, and/or commercial commodity products and equipment:

  • University of Kentucky Research Foundation (Lexington, Kentucky) plans to conduct pilot-scale testing to obtain aqueous solutions rich in mixed rare earth elements and critical minerals and materials. The project will use further advanced processing techniques to obtain high-grade rare earth oxides of individual rare earth elements, as well as high purity chemical compounds of lithium, manganese, cobalt, and nickel.
  • West Virginia University Research Corporation (Morgantown, West Virginia) will use material from an acid mine drainage treatment plant to produce individually separated high purity rare earth element and critical mineral oxides and to further process the rare earth oxides into rare earth metals. The project will also produce additional critical minerals and materials.
  • Pennsylvania State University (University Park, Pennsylvania) will recover a concentrate of mixed rare earth oxides and critical minerals and materials from an acid mine drainage treatment plant. Rare earth elements will be reduced to metals. The project will also produce high-grade compounds, including lithium carbonate, nickel, cobalt, manganese and titanium.
  • Microbeam Technologies Incorporated (Grand Forks, North Dakota) will use a bench-scale system to demonstrate the ability to extract and produce high purity gallium and germanium from a lignite-derived, mixed rare earth element concentrate obtained from selected gallium and germanium-rich lignite carbon ore.

Processing acid mine drainage fluids not only recovers valuable rare earths and critical minerals, but also returns environmentally impacted areas to healthy thriving ecosystems for humans, vegetation, and aquatic life, while processing of lignite or bituminous coal waste by-products generates value-added critical materials from our naturally occurring domestic resources.

DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), under the purview of DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM), will manage the selected projects. A detailed list of the selected projects and funding amounts can be found here. Additional selections may be made at a later date.

The four selected project teams were required, as part of their applications, to submitCommunity Benefits Plans to demonstrate meaningful engagement with and tangible benefits to the communities in which these projects will be located. These plans provide details on their commitments to community and labor engagement, quality job creation, diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, and benefits to disadvantaged communities as part of theJustice40 Initiative.

DOE’s Broader Advancements in Critical Minerals and Materials 

In addition to today’s announcement, DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM) has committed an estimated $133 million since January 2021 for projects that support critical minerals and materials exploration, resource identification, production, and processing in traditional mining and fossil fuel-producing communities across the country. This total includes $33.4 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding for detailed front-end engineering and design studies that focus on the design of domestic, intermediate-to-demonstration-scale rare earth production facilities that utilize unconventional, coal-based feedstock materials.

FECM minimizes environmental and climate impacts of fossil fuels and industrial processes while working to achieve net-zero emissions across the U.S. economy. Priority areas of technology work include carbon capture, carbon conversion, carbon dioxide removal, carbon dioxide transport and storage, hydrogen production with carbon management, methane emissions reduction, and critical minerals production. To learn more, visit the FECM websitesign up for FECM news announcements, and visit the NETL website.