U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced the Rare Earth Element Advanced Coal Technologies Act (REEACT), which would allow for the development of technology capable of extracting rare earth elements (REEs) from coal and coal byproducts to re-establish a U.S. based supply chain. 

“As the leader of the free world, the United States should not be depending on China and other foreign nations for our supply of rare earth elements. We utilize REEs in the production of everything from our cell phones and televisions to strategic weapons systems. REEACT will ensure continued research in the technologies that will allow us to produce REEs from coal and coal byproducts. This important technology would go a long way in re-establishing our domestic production which is critically important to our national security,” Senator Manchin said.

“Rare earth elements are essential to our economy and national security, but the United States is currently dependent on foreign suppliers—particularly China—for this valuable resource,” Senator Capito said. “As it turns out, rare earth elements can be extracted from coal and its byproducts, including fly ash and acid mine drainage, and extracting these materials provides a financial incentive for cleaning up legacy mine sites. This legislation would help support the research and development of these technologies, a win-win-win for Appalachia’s economy, the environment, and our national defense.” 

“Breaking our foreign mineral dependence is critical to the future of manufacturing in America,” Senator Murkowski said. “While we seek to ensure reasonable access for responsible mining and reform our permitting process, we can’t forget opportunities to develop technologies to extract minerals from coal and coal byproducts. This bill is another step forward in our efforts to strengthen our nation’s mineral and economic security.”

“WVU, the only R1 ranked research university in West Virginia, applauds Senator Manchin’s foresight introducing this bill and Senator Capito for joining him as a co-sponsor.  Economic rare earth extraction from Appalachia mine wastes has multiple benefits to West Virginia, and the United States.  First, rare earth extraction helps the United States become an increasingly independent producer of metals needed for high technology devices, and United States security; second, extracting these metals involves processes that will help clean up mine sludge and acid mine drainage and reduce the environmental impacts of coal production,” said James Wood, Interim Director of the West Virginia Energy Institute. 

The National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) began studying the potential of extracting rare earth elements from coal and coal byproducts in 2010, and expanded its REE research efforts in 2014. In 2016, NETL’s Rare Earth Elements (REE) from Coal and Coal Byproducts RD&D Program awarded two grants to West Virginia University for researchers to evaluate the potential use of REEs from coal byproducts in the region. In July 2018, West Virginia University, in collaboration with NETL, opened a pilot scale rare earth extraction facility to continue its research towards commercialization. REEACT authorizes an annual appropriation of $23,000,000 per year to the Department of Energy through 2027. The bill also requires the Secretary of Energy to provide a report to Congress in consultation with the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Interior that will evaluate the research, development, and demonstration of REE production technologies as well as evaluate the market impact of commercialization of these coal-based technologies.    

For more information on the REEACT, click here. For the full bill text,click here

For more information on the NETL REE program, click here

Related Issues: Energy