As of 2016, the United States’ demand for rare-earth elements depended on imports, mostly from China. Rare earths are a class of critical minerals, 17 in number, that are used in many technologies such as smartphones, medical treatments, wind turbines and high-performance defense-industry equipment.
Recently, politicians from America’s coal country with the help of researchers, have moved to break that dependency. They hope to re-purpose old mines to produce rare earths, thus stimulating new economic growth in places like West Virginia. But we must learn from China’s example and avoid devastating environmental consequences, which are costing China billions of dollars to correct.
The US uses about 15,000 tonnes of rare-earth elements every year, more than 700 tonnes of which go to defense. West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin recently told the Washington Examiner that America’s reliance on foreign sources for such a vital material is “a national security concern that must be addressed.”
China, which supplied 90-98% of the global rare-earth market in the last decade, may face a shortage as the country focuses on consolidation and cleanup. The time is ripe for the US to take over mining and processing of its own rare earths, and Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute, is spearheading the movement. With funding from the department of energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, Ziemkiewicz is running a pilot project to turn the interconnected coal mines across Appalachia into a processing facility for rare earths.
According to the WVWRI’s website, the purpose is to “develop a cost-effective and environmentally benign process to treat and recover REEs [rare earth elements] from sludges generated during treatment of acidic coal mine drainage (AMD).”
For the rest of this article: http://www.atimes.com/new-u-s-rare-earths-industry-must-not-make-chinas-mistakes/