At a time when rare earth elements are in high demand for the energy transition, the Department of Energy is looking to fossil fuels to supply them. Fossil fuel waste, that is. The DOE wants to build a plant to extract minerals such as cobalt and nickel that are key components of EV batteries, semiconductors, and wind turbines from coal waste and ash.
The facility, which won’t be operational until 2028, will receive $140 million from the infrastructure bill that Congress passed last November.
“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,” Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said. “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 U.S. imports about 80% of the rare earth elements the country uses in manufacturing. The DOE says there are billions of tons of coal waste and ash, acid mine drainage, and produced water that contain valuable minerals.
DOE has not announced a site for the extraction plant and will take public comment on the design, construction, and operation of the facility. Jennifer Wilcox of the Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management told CNN the most likely site would be somewhere near a high concentration of coal mines, such as Appalachia, Wyoming, or North Dakota.