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Research

Rare Earth Element Recovery

Rare earth elements (REEs) are essential for many high technology products such as rechargeable batteries, high performance magnets, medical equipment, and many defense applications. Conventional REE recovery methods are difficult, expensive, and generate large volumes of contaminated waste. China produces more than 90% of the global REEs and its export quotas add risk to the global supply chain. The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory supports a major research and development initiative at WRI focused on extracting REE from a promising source: acid mine drainage (AMD) from coal mines. Recent findings include 1,400 tons of REE in metal precipitates stored at AMD treatment sites with a contained value of $300 million. In addition, roughly 800 tons of REE's are produced annually with a contained value of $200 million. Researchers are now scaling up to demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of extracting REE's from AMD precipitates, identify process improvements and incorporate into a commercially viable facility.

Best Practices in Environmentally Responsible Shale Gas Development

The Marcellus Shale Energy and Environmental Laboratory (MSEEL) is a partnership with Northeast Natural Energy (NNE) and the U.S. Department of Energy’ s National Energy Technology Laboratory, to operate the first comprehensive field study of unconventional shale gas development from the drilling to gas recovery over an extended period of time. WRI is monitoring produced water and solid wastes produced at MSEEL's four wells. In addition to identifying long term trends in produced water volume and chemistry, we have documented the benefits of using "green" drilling fluids, protective measures at the well site and the low toxicity of drill cuttings. We are also studying ways to minimize wastes that accumulate in storage tanks. See: MSEEL.org.

Source Water Protection

In 2008-2009, salinity was increasing in the Monongahela River to the point where drinking water was becoming impaired. A study conducted by WRI found that the source was treated water from the deep coal mines along the river. We also found that high salt concentrations were associated with periods when the river's flow fell below a critical level. A discharge management model was developed by WRI and, with the cooperation of the coal industry, a voluntary program was implemented that has controlled salts since 2010. The model allows the coal industry to control TDS by discharging treated mine drainage according to the assimilative capacity of the Monongahela River on a given day. US EPA recognized the success of the program by declaring that the Monongahela River was no longer impaired by salts in 2015. The monitoring program includes the Monongahela, Allegheny, and Upper Ohio River basins. Supported by the Colcom Foundation,3RQ partners with Wheeling Jesuit University, Duquesne University, and RedHorse Environmental, LLC to implement a monthly water quality sampling program that includes both field sampling and a full detailed laboratory analysis. The detailed water chemistry and flow information is available to the public and is used to determine the loading of TDS and other parameters. To learn more, visit 3riversquest.org.

Acid Mine Drainage Remediation

Acid mine drainage (AMD) historically was responsible for more stream impairment than any other pollutant source. WRI's Mine Land Reclamation Center focuses on developing and testing AMD treatment methods. WRI pioneered many of the MAD treatment methods now used around the world. In addition to developing treatment methods, WRI has also developed planning tools that guide AMD remediation at the watershed scale, allowing watershed groups, agencies and companies to maximize the environmental benefits of their investment in AMD treatment. As a result, many large, formerly impaired streams and rivers are now productive fisheries and assets to the communities. WRI staff coordinate with faculty and technical consulting firms to design, install, and monitor AMD remediation treatment systems. These systems include alkaline amendment, passive treatment, coal ash and steel slag applications among others. More information can be found at wvwri.org.