|Rare earths from coal waste. Perhaps, Cloud Peak is sitting on a rare earth bonanza. If West Virginia coal mines have it, why not Cloud Peak's?|
West Virginia may be about to land a huge new windfall, from the coal industry. When coal is extracted, there is a waste product created known as acid mine drainage. Now instead of discarding that waste it can be refined to extract what are called Rare Earth Elements, which can be sold.
"It's important that we capitalize on these elements that we have in West Virginia and in a global economy, utilize those resources," said State Sen. Mitch Carmichael, (R) Jackson - Senate President.
Rare Earth Elements are used to make computers, cell phones, flat screen TVs and many other modern-day electronics. Eighty-percent of rare earth elements that are used in the United States come from China. But with the two nations locked in a trade war, West Virginia coal could be used for a byproduct, that China may no longer sell to us.
"We're very optimistic. There's been a lot of progress made here in recent years. So we're getting real close to be able to provide these elements here within domestically, within the state and within the United States," said Chris Hamilton, West Virginia Coal Association.
And there is another benefit, extracting rare earth elements can actually reduce pollution caused by coal mines.
"Any time you can go back in these old slag dumps or refuse areas, and be able to reprocess those materials to eliminate some of the more undesirable elements it's always a win-win for the environment, and we're getting pretty good at that," said Chris Hamilton, West Virginia Coal Association.
West Virginia University is already working on a Rare Earth Extraction Facility.
Right now developing the expansion of the Rare Earth Elements from West Virginia's coal industry is getting the support of the Legislature and Congress. So far over $4,000,000 in grants have been issued, and more research dollars are being requested.