A Source of Rare Earth Elements is Acid Mine Drainage

by Duane Nichols on August 17, 2020

Acid mine drainage is the primary water pollution source in WV

MON NEWS from Don Strimbeck, Mon County, WV, 8/15/20

Update by Paul Ziemkiewicz, WV Water Research Institute, Morgantown, WV

Thanks for the invitation to update you on the recovery of rare earth elements from acid mine drainage. Our team at WVU and Virginia Tech identified acid mine drainage (AMD) from coal mines back in 2015 as a good feedstock for rare earth element (REE) recovery.

AMD is what happens when the pyrite in coal and overburden reacts with air to make sulfuric acid. That ‘free acid’ leaches REEs out of the rock and concentrates it at the discharge of a coal mine.

You do not need to open a new mine to collect REEs from AMD. Many abandoned mines generate AMD decades after closure. Second to untreated sewage, AMD is the biggest pollutant in Appalachian streams.

At the Water Research Institute, we and our WVU colleagues have been working on AMD since the late 1980s. We know its chemistry, treatment and have spent most of our time making it go away. Witness the water quality improvements in the Monongahela, Cheat and Tygart Rivers, plus lots of creeks.

We’ve developed a way to treat AMD while recovering REEs and, with USDOE/NETL funding, we are building a 1,000 gpm pilot plant with WV-DEP to demonstrate the process.

As an REE feedstock, AMD has the following advantages:
1. AMD has to be treated anyway and that costs money
2. Recovering REE would offset AMD treatment costs and that allows watershed cleanup dollars to go farther
3. It could be a source of revenue for watershed groups and others treating AMD
4. AMD based REE production has no radioactivity problems
5. It would also yield the critical mineral Cobalt
6. Permitting is simple, not the 8+ years typical for a new REE mine
7. In fact, most sites already have all the required permits
8. Compared to REE mines, AMD based REE are richer in the more critically important, heavy REEs
9. Extraction, using our patent pending process is economically attractive

I could go on, but this summarizes where we are now. Future steps involve proving our process at the new pilot plant, developing a collection system and supply chain feeding a regional REE concentrator.

Thank you, Paul F. Ziemkiewicz, Director, WV Water Research Institute


See also: WVU awarded $5 million to continue rare earth project, build acid mine drainage treatment facility | WVU Today | October 1, 2019

Acid mine drainage is a major pollutant for West Virginia’s waters. The West Virginia Water Research Institute at WVU is looking at ways to extract rare earth elements from the sludge with the recent aid of $5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy. (WVU Photo/ Raymond Thompson, Jr.)


WVU partners with Extreme Endeavors to mine rare earth elements from acid mine drainage

AMD research facility to be located near Mt. Storm in Grant County, WV

From an Article by Veronica Ogle, WDTV, July 6, 2020

MONONGALIA COUNTY, WV – From decades of mining in West Virginia, over 40 percent of the states rivers are too polluted to be safely used for drinking water or to support aquatic life, according to Appalachian Mountain Advocates. Mike Masterman, owner of Extreme Endeavors, is partnering with WVU’s Water Research Institute to provide a solution that would benefit the environment and the economy.

“Throughout West Virginia there’s a lot of sights where abandoned coal mines, or even one’s that aren’t abandoned, where the coal leeches out an acid water,” he said.

We designed a trailer for them (WVU researchers) so that they could go to any site they wanted to, throw a pump or two in the water, and do processing that then collects a pre-concentrated slurry that we can then take up to a laboratory setting and test it for rare earth elements,” Masterman said.

The trailer was built and designed to remove rare earth elements (REE) from acid mine drainage, which can then be used for profit. These elements can be found in products like smartphones, computers or even heads-up displays for the military. They are a desired natural resources around the world. The United States uses around 15,000 tons of these elements per year and it’s mostly imported from China.

Through this research, it will allow more production of REE’s to be provided from within the states. “The research is going to lead to a way where you can make a profit by protecting the environment,” Masterman said.

In order to protect the environment, the process of removing the rare elements would help prepare safe water for it’s reentry into the state’s streams and rivers. This is something Masterman believes needs improvement. His company has made its name in the drinking water field, and he has worked with several West Virginia public service districts on modernizing and digitizing their water management systems.

“Anytime that we can take this bad acid mine drainage, treat the water and then discharge it properly, that’s only going to help our environment,” Masterman said.

“We’re taking what the coal mines have been doing and we’re going to change it around to correct their environmental problem and we’re going to create another mining product within the state,” he said.

Within the next year, the construction for a research facility is going to begin in Mt. Storm at a new acid mine drainage treatment plant.

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