Wencai Zhang has been appointed assistant professor in the Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering at Virginia Tech. He joins the department after having served as a post-doctoral research associate and assistant research professor at the University of Kentucky. Wencai brings strong research expertise in rare metal extraction and purification, flotation, surface chemistry, mineral processing, coal preparation, and hydrometallurgy.

Wencai grew up in the Yishan town of Zouchen, China, well known for its coal production and numerous coal mines. He earned his bachelor’s degree in mineral processing engineering from the Shandong University of Science and Technology (2011) and his master’s degree in mineral processing engineering from Central South University (2013). He completed his PhD in 2017 at the University of Kentucky.

Though Wencai has had several internships in the coal, iron, and nonferrous mining industries, much of his career has centered on academic instruction and research—primarily in the areas of rare metal extraction and purification, flotation, and hydrometallurgy.

“For the last five years I have been working on rare earth elements recovery from coal,” explained Wencai. “This research topic is fairly new and requires an in-depth knowledge of multiple disciplines such as coal geology, mineralogy characterization, mineral processing, and hydrometallurgy.”

Results of Wencai’s ongoing research can positively impact both the nation and the coal industry. “My proposed work in rare earths can lay a solid foundation for the future of clean energy industries while providing a safer and more reliable supply of rare earths for the United States,” he noted.

At Virginia Tech, Wencai plans to continue previous research projects in rare earth element recovery and flotation chemistry, but he is looking forward to taking on world-leading research with his new colleagues on topics in critical material recovery from waste materials and advanced material preparation.

In addition, Wencai will be working with both undergraduate and graduate mining engineering students. Since the start of the fall semester, he has enjoyed getting to know the students in the two classes he teaches: Mineral Processing and Materials Handling and Power Systems.

Wencai and his wife, Xinxin Shao, finally have settled down in Blacksburg and are enjoying the Hokie community. In addition to running, basketball, badminton, and films, Wencai enjoys spending time with newest family member, Kevin, who was just born in June!