We’re excited about the research being done at West Virginia University in regards to the state’s extractive natural resource industries.
Working with the National Energy Technology Laboratory, WVU and the West Virginia Water Research Institute have secured a $5 million grant to develop methods to retrieve rare earth elements (REEs) from acid mine drainage and fly ash.
In a state that has long been part of the epicenter of coal mining, West Virginia can benefit greatly from this research, which will be centered in part at a new acid mine drainage treatment plant near Mount Storm in Grant County.
The process serves to both extract valuable minerals while cleaning up the environment, according to Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the W.Va. Water Research Institute.
“This is a great opportunity to demonstrate the economics and environmental benefits of combining AMD treatment, watershed restoration and critical mineral recovery,” he said. “The team has worked together for the past several years and we are poised to move rapidly toward commercial development. We believe the processes we develop here can be used anywhere in the world where there’s acid mine drainage.”
The value of extracting the rare earth elements can’t be ignored, as REEs are used to power everything from defense technology to smartphones. It is a market that is dominated by China, but the efforts in West Virginia could help the U.S. gain a foothold.
Ziemkiewicz believes the Appalachian region has the more valuable heavy REEs in higher abundance, giving West Virginia an advantage. Also, the chemical processes of the minerals in acid mine drainage result in purer samples being extracted.
While this research is extremely important, it isn’t the only effort being made to improve West Virginia’s place in natural resource extraction, as other researchers are studying the use of artificial intelligence to prolong the use of power plant boilers in both coal- and natural gas-fired plants.
WVU researchers believe artificial intelligence can help develop a better system for handling the cold, warm or hot start-ups of the boilers, which could prolong the lives of the boilers and improve power plant efficiency.
The U.S. Department of Energy sees value in the research, providing a $2.5 million grant to develop the online monitoring tool.
Both of these projects would make sense, even if West Virginia wasn’t one of the nation’s top power-generating natural resources states.
But given our standing in the energy marketplace, and more importantly our potential standing as more and more natural gas-fired plants come online, the research could be a huge boost for the Mountain State.
We applaud WVU’s efforts to increase research in these valuable areas, as well as the U.S. Department of Energy’s commitment to finding better, more efficient ways of using the resources that are available to us.
This is exactly what we’ve come to expect from a world-class institution that continues to develop under the administration of President Dr. E. Gordon Gee.
Well done, WVU.