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Water Research Institute awarded $5M for project

WASHINGTON — The Water Research Institute at West Virginia University has been awarded $5 million by the U.S Department of Energy to conduct phase three of its Rare Earth Recovery Project.

In 2018, a pilot plant was opened at WVU through a collaboration between the National Technology Energy Laboratory, the college and Rockwell Automation to test technology to extract rare earth elements from acid mine drainage. Rare earth elements are used in many products including computers and cell phones.

The project has been so successful in identifying an economically attractive source of rare earth elements from acid mine drainage that phase three has been funded by the Department of Energy in a project worth more than $5 million.

“From your cell phone to weapons systems, rare earth elements are increasingly important in manufacturing. Currently, China controls the vast majority of the rare earth element supply, which puts the United States at risk,” said Rep. David B. McKinley, P.E., R-W.Va. “WVU’s work to develop a domestic source is critical and this funding will go a long way in helping them continue their research. The research being done by WVU will help to build an American supply chain and ensure that we are not dependent on other nations for our supply.”

Rare earth elements, besides electronics, also are used in national defense technology, but are hard to extract and economically attractive concentrations are rare. The U.S. imports nearly all its rare earth elements from China.

McKinley last week was a cosponsor of a bill to make the United States more competitive with China in the processing of rare earth minerals. The Rare Earth Cooperative 21st Century Manufacturing Act would establish a federal cooperative that would allow companies to process rare earth minerals they rely on for manufacturing.

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