UK CAER Current News

The Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER) is one of the University of Kentucky's multidisciplinary research centers. Its energy research provides a focal point for environmental, renewable and fossil fuels research in Kentucky.

UK Receives US Department of Energy Funding to Further Groundbreaking Rare Earth Element Research

clock August 24, 2017 08:30 by author Thomas

The University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (UK CAER) continues to be at the leading edge in the hunt to recover rare earth elements (REE) from coal and coal byproducts. Two of the four U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) projects recently selected to receive funding for novel REE research were born out of UK innovation and collaboration.

DOE selected four projects to move on to a second phase of research in their efforts to advance recovery of rare earth elements. DOE will invest $17.4 million to develop and test REE recovery systems originally selected and designed under phase 1 of a prior funding opportunity announcement through DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy (FE).

UK researchers are involved in two of these projects totaling $12 million of the $17.4 million in total funding.  

The projects, expected to be completed by 2020, fall under two areas of interest: (1) bench-scale technology to economically separate, extract, and concentrate mixed REEs from coal and coal byproducts, including aqueous effluents; and (2) pilot-scale technology to economically separate, extract, and concentrate mixed REEs from coal and coal byproduct solids.

Both of the UK projects received $6 million and were selected under DOE interest 2 (pilot-scale technology development).

UK CAER will work on the project awarded to Physical Sciences, Inc. of Andover, Mass. The project will use coal fly ash physically processed near Trapp, Ky. as their feedstock. The fly ash is a byproduct of combusting Central Appalachian bituminous coal in a power plant boiler. The select portion will be shipped to a Pennsylvania location for subsequent processing to produce the final rare earth product. In addition, researchers will evaluate recovery of other useful materials from the fly ash.  Jim Hower, a principal research scientist at UK CAER and a research professor in UK’s Earth & Environmental Sciences Department, and Jack Groppo, a principal research engineer at CAER and faculty member in UK Mining Engineering, will serve as co-PIs on this grant.  

UK’s Department of Mining Engineering will oversee the second project. The research will use two sources of coal preparation (coal washing) byproducts as feedstock for recovery of REEs. The team will also recover dry, fine coal from the feedstock material. The first location for installation and testing of the pilot plant will be at a coal preparation plant in Perry County, Ky. that processes Central Appalachian bituminous coal. The second location for testing of the pilot plant will be at a coal preparation plant that processes Illinois Basin bituminous coal near Nebo, Ky.  UK CAER’s Dr. Groppo will also provide expertise in physical separation processing and plant design on that project.

“The research advances made in rare earths over the last several years has been remarkable,” said Dr. Hower, who first discovered rare earth concentrations in Kentucky coal seams in the late 1990s. “We hope this research funding will accelerate research and development in this promising area that could have a profound impact on Kentucky’s energy economy.” 


 

REEs are a series of 17 chemical elements found in the Earth’s crust. Due to their unique chemical properties, REEs are essential components of technologies spanning a range of applications, including electronics, computer and communication systems, transportation, health care and national defense. The demand for REEs has grown significantly in recent years, stimulating an interest in economically feasible approaches for domestic REE recovery. 



UK Mining Engineering, CAER Receive DOE Funding for Rare Earth Element Research

clock June 27, 2017 15:13 by author Thomas

The University of Kentucky has received two of three U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grants for its promising work in the emerging field of rare earth element (REE) research.

DOE's Office of Fossil Energy recently announced that the three projects have been selected to receive approximately $3 million for research aimed at producing salable rare earth elements from domestic coal and coal by-products. UK's Department of Mining Engineering is a partner on one of those projects while UK's Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER) is a partner on another project.

 

 

 

REEs are a series of 17 chemical elements found in the Earth's crust. Due to their unique chemical properties, REEs are essential components of technologies spanning a range of applications, including electronics, computer and communication systems, transportation, health care and national defense. The demand for REEs has grown significantly in recent years, stimulating an interest in economically feasible approaches for domestic REE recovery.

Rick Honaker, chair of UK's Department of Mining Engineering, will oversee a project which will involve conducting laboratory testing and preparing their technical design for a pilot plant to produce salable REEs. They will use by-products from an existing West Virginia coal preparation (coal washing) plant as their raw material for extracting REEs. Their phase 1 design includes recovery and sale of dry, fine, high-quality coal from this raw material as an additional source of revenue.

"Coal and coal by-products have the potential to be the source of a critical national need in the supply of rare earth elements including those that have been identified as strategically important by the U.S. Department of Defence. Researchers at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) were the first to recognize this fact and, with strong congressional support led by Congressman Hal Rogers, have developed a research and development program to expedite the commercialization of this opportunity," Honaker said. "We are grateful that NETL has selected our team to be one of three to initiate the development of a small, commercial production facility to produce rare earth element concentrates from coal and coal products. If successful, rare earth production facilities in the coalfields could significantly reduce the reliance on imports where nearly 100 percent of the critical materials are obtained, while also positively impacting job creation and the financial stability of mining companies."

Jim Hower, a principal research scientist at UK CAER and a research professor in UK's Earth and Environmental Sciences Department, will oversee the second project, which will utilize by-products from an eastern Kentucky coal preparation plant as their source of REEs. Their phase 1 design will consider recovery and sale of coal from these preparation plant by-products as an additional source of revenue.

"Our rare earth element recovery research is a natural extension of the center's efforts in creating high-value products from coal and coal combustion by-products," Hower said. "We look forward to bringing this knowledge to bear, and the potential for creating new jobs and economic opportunities in Kentucky and across the United States. We are most grateful to DOE for this support, and thankful to Congressman Hal Rogers for his continued leadership in support of UK CAER's coal by-product utilization research and development."

These REE projects speak to the unique and long-standing collaboration between UK Mining Engineering and UK CAER. Jack Groppo, a principal research engineer at CAER and faculty member in UK Mining Engineering, will also provide expertise in physical separation processing and plant design on Honaker's project.

 

 

"The University of Kentucky is engaged in answering Kentucky questions that, often, have global implications," said UK President Eli Capilouto. "These grants underscore the leading role UK's Center for Applied Energy Research and Department of Mining Engineering play in our national energy dialogue. UK faculty and staff researchers are recognized pioneers, and their research and discovery plays an integral role in how we improve, utilize, and enhance the capacity of our energy economy. I want to thank Congressman Hal Rogers for his continued support of the University of Kentucky, and his belief in our people's capacity to address those questions most vexing to the state we serve, together."

"I applaud the University of Kentucky for the continued tireless efforts to secure the future of coal and coal by-products across the country," said Congressman Hal Rogers, who supported federal funding for DOE grant opportunities. "Rare earth elements are utilized in ways you may not know about, from computers, to telescopes, to aircraft engines, to specialized glass, and medical equipment. The ongoing innovative research and development at UK CAER and the Department of Mining Engineering will expand upon potential revenue options in the future, providing more opportunities for Kentucky's coal country."

More information about the projects can be found at:
https://energy.gov/articles/doe-announces-69-million-research-rare-earth-elements-coal-and-coal-byproducts

 



Center Collaborates with UK Mining Engineering on Rare Earth Elements Research

clock March 15, 2016 08:56 by author David Melanson

University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research scientists Jack Groppo and Jim Hower are collaborating with Rick Honaker, professor and chair of the UK Department of Mining Engineering, to develop a mobile pilot-plant facility for the recovery of rare earth elements from coal.

The research team received $1 million from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory. The team includes collaborators at Virginia Tech and West Virginia University and will develop and test a mobile processing facility that can efficiently recover the rare earth elements present in coal and coal byproducts in an environmentally friendly manner.

"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," Dr. Honaker said.

Rare earth elements, or REEs, are a series of chemical elements found in the Earth’s crust. Due to their unique chemical properties, REEs have become essential components of many technologies spanning a range of applications including electronics, computer and communication systems, transportation, health care and national defense. The demand, cost and availability of REEs has grown significantly over recent years stimulating an emphasis on economically feasible approaches for REE recovery.

The U.S. has 10.9 million tons of rare earth resources in coal deposits located in just five western and four eastern states, including Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, according to the U.S. Geological Survey Coal Quality Database.

"If advanced separation technologies become available, the resource base will increase substantially," Dr. Honaker said.

With those technologies, the coal industry could potentially produce approximately 40,000 tons of REEs annually, which is more than twice the amount consumed in the U.S.

As Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers (KY-05) supported funding for REE recovery projects in the federal budget for fiscal year 2016.

“Our coal-producing states are working diligently to recover from the devastating loss of coal mining jobs in today’s economy. In fact, Kentucky alone has suffered the loss of nearly 11,000 coal mining jobs since 2009. Experimental projects, like UK’s mobile REE recovery plant, could save and create new coal-related jobs and opportunities in eastern Kentucky,” said Congressman Rogers. “I applaud Professor Honaker and the vision of UK’s leaders to find new applications for coal and coal byproducts for the development of everyday technologies, such as smart phones, computers and rechargeable batteries. This effort to find more uses for our country’s most plentiful resource could put many people back to work in the coalfields.”

This project is one of only 10 projects awarded and is the only one that is focused on physical concentration methods as a means for recovering REE directly from the coal sources rather than from a coal combustion byproduct. UK CAER received funding on three of 10 NETL projects.



UK CAER Receives Federal Rare Earth Element Research Funding

clock December 15, 2015 13:54 by author David Melanson

Several UK CAER colleagues received funding on three of 10 U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) projects. NETL funded this series of projects as part of their Recovery of Rare Earth Elements from Coal and Coal Byproducts program. The selected research projects will further program goals by focusing on the development of cost-effective and environmentally benign approaches for the recovery of rare earth elements (REEs) from domestic coal and coal byproducts. Read the story.