Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Federal Office Of Surface Mining Awards Grants To 8 Projects To Extract Critical Minerals From Mine Waste, Including To The University Of Pittsburgh & Partners

On September 20, the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement announced eight projects will share $1.6 million in grants through its
Applied Science Program, including four projects that will study methods to improve the recovery of rare earth elements (REEs) from coal mining waste.

The projects include funding for the University of Pittsburgh and its partners to develop and test a scalable method for efficient extraction of rare earth elements and yttrium (REY) from acid mine drainage.

The Applied Science Program advances the development of technology, tools and methods to protect the public and the environment during coal mining and reclamation of abandoned coal mine sites. 

This is the first time that OSMRE has included the identification and recovery of REEs as an eligible topic. 

REEs play an essential role in a number of materials needed for today's clean energy technologies and are included on the U.S. Geological Survey list of critical minerals.

"OSMRE is excited to support researchers developing new and better methods to extract REEs from coal waste and coal byproducts, which will support the nation's effort to develop new sources of critical minerals while also addressing longstanding environmental problems plaguing coal communities and polluting waterways across the country," said Deputy Director Glenda Owens.

Click Here for the complete announcement.

Pennsylvania Project

Funding was provided for a joint project involving the University of Pittsburgh, the U.S. Geological Survey and Hedin Environmental to develop and test rare earth element capture during treatment of acid mine drainage and validation of geochemical modeling through bench-scale experiments and proof-of-concept field studies.

The specific objectives of the project from the funding application are to--

-- Develop a modeling framework that can accurately describe the co-precipitation and adsorption of REY [rare earth elements and yttrium] with solid phases (mineral and amorphous) that are formed when coal AMD of variable composition is neutralized;

-- Validate specific model predictions using benchtop batch and column flow through precipitation/adsorption experiments on simulated AMD;

-- Develop and test a prototype for manipulating high-REY AMD in order to capture REY at or near the discharge source at economic concentrations; and

-- Disseminate these findings to AMD stakeholders and the greater scientific community, in part via integration into an innovative geochemical modeling tool (PHREEQ-N-AMDTreat), which will provide immediate on-the ground resources for end users by providing cost-benefit analysis and treatment strategies for REY [rare earth elements and yttrium] recovery. 

The project partners said they will combine geochemical equilibrium modeling with bench-top experiments to determine precise treatment conditions (e.g., pH, redox, metals and ligand concentrations) under which precipitation of solids can be achieved while concentrating REY removal at specific steps. 

A PHREEQC equilibrium model will be applied to identify potential interactions during the precipitation of solids, including those containing REY, the distribution of aqueous and surface (sorption) species of REY and associated ions, and the sorbent composition and mass. 

Batch titration and upflow column experiments will be used to evaluate potential for REY coprecipitation with Al [aluminum] and Fe [iron] and to determine REY adsorption parameters on precipitated AMD minerals. 

Model calibration based on the experimental results will be used to determine optimum conditions for the efficient precipitation of target and non-target solids. 

Initial experiments and modeling will involve simulated AMD and will be validated using AMD collected from a range of remediation sites. 

This combined and, most importantly, iterative experimental and modeling approach will be used to evaluate a wide range of variables in order to design an up-scalable modular, retrievable REY-capture device that can be implemented in field testing of REY capture and recovery. 

The modeling, experiments, and technology demonstration will improve engineering designs that target REY recovery and provide additional economic incentive for AMD treatment of impacted streams. 

Integration of results into the AMDTreat water-quality modeling tool (PHREEQ-NAMDTreat) will provide end-users the ability to up-scale results to field application and aid in cost estimates on the scale of individual AMD discharges. 

In addition, results will be disseminated via scientific publications and meeting presentations. 

This project also involves the training of a graduate student in geochemical modeling, bench-top experimental techniques, and AMD remediation.

For more information, contact the University of Pittsburgh's Grants and Contracts Officer Dr. Rebecca Pfeifer by sending email to: or call 412-624-7400.

(Courtesy of federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.)

Additional Background

Rare earth minerals are critical to the refining of petroleum products and the manufacture of all sorts of electronic components for clean energy, batteries, aerospace, automotive and defense industries.

The House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee held a hearing January 10 of this year on the “benefits and challenges related to extracting and utilizing rare earth minerals found within Pennsylvania” that provided a factual background on this issue. (See resource links below.)

Surprisingly, 75 percent of rare earth minerals are used as oil refining catalysts and to make catalytic converters for vehicles, according to DCNR’s Bureau of Geologic Survey.

Only about 6 percent are used in alloys for batteries, fuel cells, LED and LCD, flat panel displays and screens and steelmaking, but the clean energy-related segment is growing.

On April 6, the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee reported out Senate Resolution 229 (Dush-R-Jefferson, Yudichak-I-Luzerne, Flynn-D-Lackawanna) calling for a study of the potential for critical and rare earth minerals in Pennsylvania and was Tabled June 13 without any further action. 

Penn State University has been doing important research into rare earth minerals in abandoned mine drainage, coal and other sources and established a Center for Critical Minerals in 2019 to help guide this research.  Read more here.

The U.S. Department of Energy and its National Energy Technology Laboratory in Pittsburgh have similar efforts underway and have been awarding grants to support these initiatives at Penn State and around the country.

Groups like the Eastern PA Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation have been attempting to highlight the economic potential and environmental benefits of rare earth minerals for some time, in particular to support mine drainage treatment efforts.  Read more here.

Resource Links:

-- House Environmental Resources & Energy Committee hearing on rare earth minerals January 10, 2022 - Video of Hearing + Transcript of Hearing

-- Testimony from House Hearing:

       -- Dr. Gale Blackmer, Director, DCNR Bureau of Geological Survey - Presentation

       -- Dr. Sarma Pisupati, Director, Penn State’s Center for Critical Minerals

       -- Dr. Pete Rozelle, Advisor, Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences

       -- Anthony Marchese, Texas Mineral Resources, partnership with Penn State - Presentation


-- The Center Square - Anthony Hennen: Reclaiming Rare Earth Elements Could Clean Up PA Acid Mine Drainage

Related Articles:

-- Penn State Calls For Taking Next Step To Demonstrate Technology For Recovery Of Rare Earth & Critical Minerals From Mine Drainage, Coal Refuse - Build A Processing Facility

-- U.S. DOE Invites Comments On Implementing A Rare Earth & Critical Materials Research, Development, Demonstration & Commercialization Program

-- Senate Committee Reports Out Rare Earth Minerals Resolution; Bill Redirecting Coal Mining Penalties [2022]

-- Senate Resolution Offers Hope Lawmakers May Take The Economic And Environmental Benefits Of Developing A Rare Earth Minerals Industry Seriously In PA [2022]

-- Penn State: Battery Metals From Abandoned Mine Wastewater: Potential Economic Benefits For Pennsylvania  [2021]

-- New Sensor Can Detect Valuable Rare Earth Elements In Mine Drainage, Other Non-Traditional Sources [2021]

-- New Acid Mine Drainage Treatment Turns Waste Into Valuable Rare Earth Minerals [2020]

-- U.S. Dept. Of Energy Awards $1.95 Million For Conceptual Designs For Rare Earth Mineral Extraction From Coal Sources, Including 4 PA Projects[2020]

-- DOE Grant To Penn State Continues Research Into Rare-Earth Elements Extraction From Coal [2017]

-- Kleinman Center For Energy Policy: Rare Earth Elements - A Rare Opportunity For Pennsylvania - By John Quigley, Fmr DEP/DCNR Secretary  [2017]

-- Study Will Determine Amount Of Rare Earth Elements In Coal Mining Waste [2016]

-- Penn State: Extracting Rare Earth Elements From Coal Could Soon Be Economical In U.S. [2016]

[Posted: September 21, 2022]  PA Environment Digest

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