Honaker Awarded Funding for Rare Earth Pilot Facility

University of Kentucky (UK) Department of Mining Engineering Chair Rick Honaker has been awarded a grant of almost $1 million from the U.S. Department of Energy National Energy Technology Laboratory (DOE NETL) for the development of a pilot-plant facility to recover rare earth elements from coal.

Honaker will lead a team from Virginia Tech and West Virginia University as well as partners Arch Coal, Blackhawk Mining, Bowie Refining, Eriez Manufacturing and Minerals Refining Co. on the design and testing of the facility, which will work in an environmentally friendly manner to recover the elements, also known as REEs, efficiently from coal and its byproducts.

Specifically, it will use HHS technology, a patented process that takes advantage of properties of water-friendly and water-repellent materials for extraction of the elements. REEs in the U.S. are found in just nine states, but potential deposits total 10.9 million tons, according to U.S. Geological Survey data.

“Previous research conducted by UK scientists and others have found that the critical materials needed for renewable energy technologies, such as cell phones and other electronics, are found in coal and coal byproducts at concentrations that may be economical to recover,” Honaker said. “If advanced separation technologies become available, the resource base will increase substantially.”

If the separation technologies come to fruition, the coal industry could potentially produce 40,000 tons of REEs each year, more than twice the nation’s current consumption rate. The project by Honaker and his partners was one of only 10 projects awarded grant funding. It is the only one focused on physical concentration methods for REE recovery directly from coal and not from combustion byproduct.

The DOE has awarded $999,797, and another $320,212 will come from other project partners.

Total funding for the mobile facility design in Phase 1 is $1,320,009. If the initial phase is successful, the second phase, with a price tag of $6 million, will include the facility’s construction and testing.