The National Energy Technology Laboratory, based in Morgantown, West Virginia, said its Targeted Rare Earth Extraction (TREE) process, designed to recover rare earths and minor metals from coal and byproducts coal, was named a finalist in the R&D 100 Awards 2022 competition.
NETL describes TREE as “an environmentally friendly and cost-effective technology for extracting rare earth elements and critical minerals (REEs-CM) from a wide range of coal and coal processing materials and waste streams, including bottom ash, fly ash, ash ponds and landfill ash.
Rare earth elements can include cerium, gallium, germanium, and lanthanum, while critical materials can include aluminum, chromium, and nickel. Metals are used in a wide range of applications, including computer manufacturing, clean energy technologies and defense systems.
NETL researchers say they developed the technology “to help build a strong national supply chain of REEs-CM. American manufacturers need REE-CM to produce high-tech consumer products and electronics, electric and hybrid vehicles, solar panels, wind turbines and components for the nation’s defense. According to NETL, the United States currently imports more than 80% of its ETR-MC from foreign suppliers.
The lab says, “NETL’s breakthrough discovery also supports the development of technologies to decarbonize the U.S. electricity sector by 2035 and the economy by 2050 while creating well-paying, clean jobs in communities that have produced fossil fuels and fossil fuel-based energy and have an abundance of coal and coal by-products.
The lab claims that its process “substantially improves upon current REE-CM extraction methods. TREE uses ambient temperatures and pressure, requires virtually no pre-treatment of materials, and reduces the amounts of acids and organic solvents needed to perform the extraction.
NETL and its partners worked in the Powder River Basin (PRB), a coal producing area in Wyoming and Montana, where NETL researchers estimate that 2,300 tons of REE could be extracted annually from coal ash of the region.
Members of NETL’s TREE research team are Ward Burgess, Alison Fritz, Christina Lopano, Mengling Stuckman, Thomas Tarka, and Jonathan Yang. TREE was named a finalist in the Process/Prototyping category.
The R&D World Media Organization competition attracted entries from 12 different countries and regions, according to NETL.