The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded three highly competitive awards on critical materials research to two Virginia Tech mining and minerals engineering research teams. The Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research (VCCER) is the recipient of one award, and the Center for Advanced Separation Technologies (CAST) is the recipient of two others.

“The teams’ proposals were complex and represent an enormous amount of work,” said Kray Luxbacher, Charles T. Holland Professor and Department Head for mining and minerals engineering. 

For the VCCER project, Michael Karmis (Stonie Barker Professor), Nino Ripepi (department associate professor), and VCCER research associates Charlie Schlosser and Richard Bishop prepared the proposal and will serve as the lead institution for the Appalachian Basin project with an award of $1.5 million. In this project, VCCER plans to promote regional economic growth and foster new job creation by accelerating the extraction and processing of rare earth elements and critical minerals resources from coal, coal sediments, coal ash, coal refuse and impoundments, acid mine drainage and other basin-specific resources in the Central Appalachian region.

CAST received funding for two projects. In one, Roe Hoan Yoon (University Distinguished Professor and Nicolas T. Camicia Professor of mining and minerals engineering), Aaron Noble (department associate professor), and Wencai Zhang (department assistant professor), are working with a team led by West Virginia University Research Corporation, with an award of $1.5 million. This work aims to focus on the expansion and transformation of using coal and coal-based resources to produce products of high value to the 21st century energy and manufacturing ecosystem.

In a second, Roe Hoan Yoon and department Research Associate Kaiwu Huang will support a Penn State initiative focused on the Northern Appalachian Basin, with an award of $1.2 million. This project will assess and catalog Northern Appalachian Basin rare earth elements and critical minerals resources and waste streams while also developing strategies for recovering their minerals.

Luxbacher noted that these are Phase 1 awards, valued at over $1 million, with Phases 2 and 3 expected to be even higher. “These are outstanding awards in their own rights, and represent just a first phase of federal investment in critical minerals.”

According to the DOE, the development and production of rare earth elements and critical minerals, key components in many clean energy applications such as magnets in wind turbines and batteries in electric and conventional vehicles, can offer a way to support regional economic growth and job creation in regions traditionally home to the fossil fuel industry.

The awards also seek to address the nation's need for new domestic source streams of critical materials, as the U.S. has been forced to rely on imported materials, leaving clean energy technology production at greater risk of disruption.

Read the DOE Press Release