Aaron Noble, Associate Professor in the Virginia Tech department of mining and minerals engineering, has been named the recipient of the 2018 J.W. Woomer Young Engineer Award by the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration’s Coal and Energy Division. The award recognizes Aaron’s outstanding contributions to process engineering of advanced coal beneficiation systems.

Previous department recipients of the Woomer Award include Dr. Kray Luxbacher, department Professor and Associate Head, and Dr. Nikhil Gupta, department Post-Doctoral Associate. “Aaron has certainly earned this award, and we are fortunate to have him as part of the Mining and Minerals Engineering community,” notes Erik Westman, Professor and Department Head. “His research serves society by both cleaning the environment and recovering critical minerals."

Noble will be presented with the award during the SME 2019 Annual Conference & Expo and CMA 121st National Western Mining Conference in Denver, Colorado, in February at the Coal & Energy Division Luncheon.

While the Woomer Award honors individual achievements, Noble is quick to point out how colleagues and team members contribute to one’s success. “People are always busy and often think they are contributing 100%. However, when inspired by a strong group of colleagues, they realize that they can actually work well beyond their maximum abilities,” explains Noble. “This idea really holds true at Virginia Tech. The team here has really pushed me to do even better than I thought possible a couple years ago.  So while I am honored to represent the department with this award, I hope it also reflects well on the amazing team we have at Virginia Tech.” 

Dr. Aaron Noble

Noble joined Virginia Tech’s mining and minerals engineering department in the summer of 2017 as Associate Professor and Associate Director for the Center for Advanced Separation Technologies (CAST). Prior to this appointment, he served as assistant professor in the Mining Engineering faculty at West Virginia University. He earned his B.S. in Mining Engineering from Virginia Tech in 2009, ranked 1st in the 2009 College of Engineering graduating class. He went on to join the Center for Advanced Separation Technologies (CAST) as a graduate research assistant working in the field of mineral processing, completing both his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in four years.

Some of his greatest research contributions since joining Virginia Tech have been aimed at developing technologies for recovering rare earth elements (REEs) from coal and coal byproducts. This work has positioned Virginia Tech as a world leader on the topic.

REEs are critical elements used in many modern technologies, and the demand for them has increased in recent years, necessitating the development of economically feasible approaches for recovering them domestically. Noble’s research focuses on developing cost-effective and environmentally benign approaches for recovering REEs from coal resources, which, If successfully implemented, can provide a secure domestic source for these materials.

Noble is currently working alongside colleagues Dr. Roe-Hoan Yoon (University Distinguished Professor) and Dr. Jerry Luttrell (Morgan Massey Professor) to economically separate, extract, and concentrate mixed REEs from coal and coal byproducts. While coal material has elevated concentrations of REEs, the form and structure of these elements are difficult to separate, and it is this technical challenge that Noble and his colleagues are seeking to address.

In addition to extensive research projects, Dr. Noble is widely recognized by his colleagues and students as a passionate teacher, and his students have elected him twice as a department Outstanding Instructor in both 2013 and 2018. He is an inaugural recipient of the SME Academic Career Development Grant (2015), and other professional honors and awards, to include the SME/MPD Outstanding Young Engineer Award (2018), the SME/AIME Rossiter W. Raymond Award (2017), the Henry Krumb Lecturer (2016, 2018) and a recipient of the SME Stefanko Best Paper Award (2014).