Research Projects and Publications

Acid mine drainage as a domestic feedstock for rare earth element production

Author: Haley Hoover
Year: 2019
Supervisor: Einar Jón Ásbjörnsson 


Rare earth elements (REEs) have become an increasingly important resource for the modern world, as they have applications spanning from handheld electronics to national defense systems. Yet, there is no REE production in the US as of 2019. (US Department of Energy, 2017) As such, there are growing interests to find an alternate source of rare earths, freeing dependence on foreign mines. In 2017, the U.S. Department of Energy reported to the U.S. Congress on the feasibility of investigating domestic coal and coal byproducts such as Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) as a potential source of rare earth elements. In conjunction with this project, led by West Virginia University, the primary objective of this thesis is to quantitatively and qualitatively show the process of AMD formation and the inadvertent abundance of REEs as a result. Additionally, this thesis will present an alternative to the traditional rare earth supply chain by way of replacing the processing and beneficiation steps with acid leaching to create REE concentrate from AMD. This process will be discussed in detail and factors and conditions affecting these processes will be addressed and examined. If successful, this project could set the stage for the first domestic rare earth market in the U.S. since the close of its REE mining operations in 2015. Furthermore, the technology to extract REEs from AMD and other coal byproducts successfully could change global policy regarding REEs forever.

Link to Publication