The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection announced this week that it will build a treatment plant that will simultaneously process acid mine drainage and recover rare earth element oxides from acidic coal mine drainage. The work, which will be funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, is being conducted in partnership with the West Virginia Water Research Institute at West Virginia University.
Rare earth elements are used in the production of electronics, batteries, and many other items, and most of the 15,000 tons used each year in the U.S. are imported from China. A regional survey found 700 tons of rare earth element oxides in acid mine drainage sludge in northern and central Appalachian Coal Basin. The survey estimated that the area could produce 1,000 tons of these elements annually from the acid mine drainage. With an estimated value of $245 million, the environmental requirement to address acid mine drainage could turn into a potential revenue source.
West Virginia DEP Secretary Austin Caperton said, “We welcome the opportunity to recover value from mine drainage treatment while helping to create a domestic supply chain of strategic materials to the rest of the country.”