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DOE eyes unconventional REE refinery

Seeks input as it considers new $140M REE separation facility Metal Tech News – February 16, 2022

Looking to break America's reliance on China for rare earths and critical minerals, the U.S. Department of Energy is investing $140 million to develop a facility that extracts these minerals from unconventional sources and then refines them into the metals needed for electric vehicles, renewable energy generation, and other modern technologies.

These technological advances are creating new demand for a suite of minerals and metals that are often rare and in short supply. In addition to the rare earths, cobalt, lithium, and other mined materials that have captured headlines due to the growing demand being driven by the EV revolution, this list includes even more obscure mined materials such as gallium, germanium, scandium, and tellurium needed for 5G telecommunication networks, renewable energy generation, advanced computing, and a broad array of other modern technologies.

Recent work by government, academia, and innovative companies has shown that the ash left behind from more than a century of powering America with coal, the tailings of yesterday's metal mines, and the acid mine drainage created when water and air oxidize sulfide-rich rocks, offer potential unconventional domestic sources of the equally unconventional metals needed to build tomorrow's technologies.

A more detailed discussion of these potential domestic critical mineral sources can be read at Unconventional critical mineral solutions in the Critical Minerals Alliances magazine.

The Biden administration believes that extracting the critical minerals left behind by historical mining and coal-fired electricity generation offers multiple layers of benefits to the U.S. – new domestic sources of the minerals and metals vital to America's climate goals and technology industries; an opportunity to clean up legacy mine waste with modern technologies and under today's environmental law; and the creation of new career opportunities in parts of the U.S. that have traditionally delivered the coal that powered much of America's homes and industries for more than a century.

"Applying next-generation technology to convert legacy fossil fuel waste into a domestic source of critical minerals needed to strengthen our supply chains is a win-win – delivering a healthier environment and driving us forward to our clean energy goals," said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm.

Toward this altruistic goal, the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes $140 million to support the design and development of a refinery to demonstrate the commercial viability of extracting rare earths and critical minerals from unconventional resources and separating and refining them into the metals being demanded by American industries.

"With the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law's investment in the build out of this first-of-its-kind critical minerals refinery, we are moving ideas from the lab to the commercial stage and demonstrating how America can compete for the global supply chain to meet the growing demand for clean energy technology," the Energy Secretary added.

To put the best ideas and technologies into this critical demonstration refinery, DOE has released a request for information that seeks input from industry, investors, developers, academia, research laboratories, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and communities that potentially could be affected by the development of the critical minerals plant.

The RFI solicits feedback on demonstration facility features, supply chain considerations, research and development needs, business models, and potential societal impacts and benefits of the proposed critical minerals extraction and separation facility.

While DOE encourages outside-of-the-box thinking when it comes to unconventional sources of critical minerals, it does not want to stray too far from convention when it comes to the technologies that will be used to extract and refine these technology metals.

The energy department envisions that this first-generation separation facility will use proven methods such as hydrometallurgy and solvent extraction for the separation of individual rare earth and critical mineral oxides, as well as the subsequent refining and alloying of metals.

"Further advanced technologies will be encouraged, but only if tested and ready to be applied at demonstration scale," DOE inked in its RFI.

The demonstration facility will have the capability of extracting, separating, and recovering critical minerals from at least one unconventional source, but ideally it would have the capability to process materials from multiple feedstock resources, demonstrating the capabilities of feedstock flexibility.

Recovery of rare earths is the primary target for the facility, with co-recovery of other critical minerals permitted.

DOE expects the domestic demonstration facility to be vertically integrated and include the primary central processing and refining. The department, however, does see this demonstration facility being the center of a hub-and-spoke configuration with satellite sites that would carry out preliminary extraction and deliver to the central facility for further separation and refining.

The "Bipartisan Infrastructure Law - Rare Earth Element Demonstration Facility" RFI can be read at: file:///C:/Users/Owner/Downloads/FundOpp_DE-FOA-0002686.pdf

Responses to this RFI must be submitted electronically to [email protected], with the subject line "DE-FOA-0002686-RFI" through March 31.

DOE stresses that this is only and request for information and not a funding opportunity announcement.

Author Bio

Shane Lasley, Metal Tech News

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With more than 16 years of covering mining, Shane is renowned for his insights and and in-depth analysis of mining, mineral exploration and technology metals.


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