Rare Earths: U.S. Government Funds Extraction From Mine Waste

by | 21. Sep 2022 - 14:40 | Politics

156 million to build a plant that will recycle raw materials from mining waste.

The U.S. government plans to spend up to $156 million to support the construction of a refinery for rare earths and critical minerals. The facility will demonstrate the economic viability of extracting raw materials from “unconventional sources” such as mine waste. The bipartisan infrastructure law, which also includes billions in investments in clean energy technologies, serves as the basis for the funding. Critical minerals are needed for electric motors and wind turbines, among other things.

More than 80 percent of the United States’ rare earth requirements are currently covered by imports, according to the department’s release. At the same time, billions of tons of mining and power generation residues, such as coal waste and ash and acid mine drainage, are generated across the country. These contain a variety of valuable rare earth elements and other important minerals. Reuse would not only strengthen domestic supply chains and provide components for clean energy, according to U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, but also contribute to a healthier environment.

“The first plant of its kind”

According to the U.S. government, the plant is expected to be the first of its kind in the United States. Academic institutions are now invited to submit applications for a preliminary engineering study followed by design, construction and operation of the refinery.

Domestic mining company MP Materials – operator of the only U.S. rare earth mine to date – and Australian rare earth producer Lynas are also building facilities to process the raw materials (we reported). Both projects are funded by the US Department of Defense. Until now, rare earth metals have had to be shipped mainly to Asia for further processing.

Mining after mining increasingly in demand

In view of the rising global demand for raw materials, which is strongly linked to the expansion of climate protection measures, alternative sources are increasingly coming into focus. In the USA, Sandia National Laboratories has developed a process that dissolves rare earths from fly ash. This is produced when coal is burned for power generation. Scientists at Rice University presented a method to extract the critical minerals from waste such as electronic scrap and red mud. Research projects in Germany are also looking into the extraction of raw materials from mining residues, for example at the Post-Mining Research Center at the Georg Agricola University of Applied Sciences in Bochum, as well as at the Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology and the TU Bergakademie Freiberg.

Photo: iStock/f9photos

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