Critical minerals from fossil fuel waste
Metal Tech News - February 10, 2023
Last updated 4/16/2023 at 6:55am
DOE funds R&D for recovering critical metals while creating clean water from fossil fuel waste.
The Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management is providing $17.5 million in funding for research and development projects focused on producing clean water and critical minerals from oil, gas, and coal production wastewater.
Fossil fuel production and use produces wastewater, either pumped up with oil and gas or from the waste streams of production or generating electricity.
While the enormous quantities of fossil fuel wastewater in the United States are managed and stored, without treatment, the water is not beneficial and could cause environmental problems if leaked. However, removing the chemical compounds, particulates, metals, and other organic waste material that would make the water suitable for use is costly and complex.
The R&D projects to be funded by FECM aims to lower the cost of developing and demonstrating technologies to manage these waste streams safely and effectively for beneficial uses – such as irrigation of non-edible crops, hydrogen generation, and to recharge aquifers.
"Clean water is essential for the health and economic prosperity of our communities, but while demand from the energy sector for this vital resource has grown, aquifers in arid and semi-arid regions of the country have become depleted by drought conditions made worse by a warming climate," said Brad Crabtree, assistant secretary of DOE's Fossil Energy and Carbon Management. "By treating and reusing the large volumes of wastewater produced through fossil fuel production and use, these projects will help to make wastewater safe for the environment and a valuable resource for the American public, especially for water-stressed communities."
As an added benefit, fossil fuel wastewaters often contain rare earths and other critical minerals that could provide a domestic source of these elements essential to manufacturing electric vehicles, solar panels, wind turbines, hydrogen fuel cells, and other clean energy technologies that support the Biden administration's net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 goals for the U.S.
Critical mineral production from these waste streams could also create a cash stream that could offset some of the costs of transforming wastewater into a valuable resource for America's water-stressed areas.