CHARLESTON, WV (WOAY) – The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s (WVDEP) Office of Special Reclamation (OSR) is partnering with the West Virginia Water Research Institute (WVWRI) at West Virginia University (WVU) to build a new acid mine drainage (AMD) treatment plant near Mount Storm.
The treatment plant is part of WVWRI’s effort to expand its successful Rare Earth Element Oxide Recovery Project and is being funded by a $5 million award by the U.S. Department of Energy.
The project will be a cost-effective and environmentally benign process to simultaneously treat AMD and recover Rare Earth Element (REE) oxides from acidic coal mine drainage and related products that result from its treatment.
“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,” said WVDEP Cabinet Secretary Austin Caperton. “Our agency can play an important role by working with WVU to develop acid mine drainage treatment plants that use Rare Earth Element oxide recovery technology.”
REE are a set of 17 chemical elements in the periodic table that, despite their name, are plentiful in the Earth’s crust and used in the production of electronics, batteries, glasses, medical applications, and more. High concentrations of REE oxides are found in AMD sludge.
A regional survey conducted by WVWRI found 700 tons of REE in AMD sludge cells on mine sites in the northern and central Appalachian Coal Basins. Those mines could produce about 1,000 tons of REE annually, with an estimated value of $245 million.
AMD impacts thousands of miles of rivers and streams in West Virginia and treatment sites generate thousands of tons of sludge each year. Managing this sludge is expensive and can delay bringing other treatment sites online.
“The WVDEP fully supports WVWRI’s efforts in developing a new way to treat AMD,” said Mike Sheehan, deputy director of the Division of Land Reclamation at the WVDEP. “The extraction of REE oxides could serve as a potential revenue source that could offset some of OSR’s treatment cost.”
OSR will design and build the plant, while Rockwell Automation will provide sensor and control technology and TenCate Corporation will engineer materials for REE oxide extraction process.