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DOE to award $28.35M for R&D on advanced processing of rare earth elements and critical minerals from coal-based resources

The US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy (FE) has announced $28.35 million in federal funding for cost-shared research and development projects under the Funding Opportunity Announcement DE-FOA-0002404, Advanced Processing of Rare Earth Elements and Critical Minerals for Industrial and Manufacturing Applications.

The US imports more than half of its annual consumption of 31 of the 35 critical minerals (CM). The US has no domestic production for 14 CMs and is completely dependent on imports to supply its demand. CM are used in the manufacture of high-tech devices, national defense applications, and green growth-related industries.

Rare earth elements (REE) are the 15 elements in the lanthanide series shown in the periodic table. Scandium and yttrium are included in the manufacture of cell phones, LED screens, solar panels, energy infrastructure, defense technologies, and other essential high-tech applications. The US currently imports 80% of its REEs directly from China, with remaining portions indirectly sourced from China through other countries.

By creating a sustainable domestic CM and REE supply chain, the United States would reduce its risk of supply disruption for essential domestic and military industries, while producing these needed materials for the emerging clean energy technology market. The current $5-billion global REE market is projected to grow 40% in the next five years, with similar growth anticipated for the CM market.

This FOA seeks to fund research and development projects that will focus on developing innovative midstream processing technologies that will be environmentally benign, and potentially lower capital costs and operating expenses. Phase 1 applications for two areas of interest (AOI) are being sought at this time:

  • AOI 1: Advanced Process Development for Production of Rare Earth Metals (REM) and Co-Production of Critical Minerals (CM) from Coal-Based and Alternate Resources. Projects selected for Phase 1 will develop a detailed Technical Research Plan that is focused on (1) the development of advanced processes for separation and purification, and ultimate reduction to metals (REM) of mixed rare earth oxides/mixed rare earth salts (MREO/MRES); and (2) the production of critical minerals (CM).

  • AOI 2: Production of Critical Minerals (CM) (Excluding Rare Earth Elements or REE) from Coal-Based and Alternate Resources. Projects selected for Phase 2 will execute the Recipient’s Phase 1 Technical Research Plan wherein proof-of-concept (POC) testing will be conducted in laboratory- or bench-scale facilities, addressing the potential viability of advanced innovative processes at costs that are potentially lower (i.e., ∼20%) than costs for producing these materials using currently available conventional separations and conversion technologies.

Coal and coal by-products include run-of-mine coal, coal refuse (mineral matter that is removed from coal), clay/sandstone over/under-burden materials, ash (coal combustion or gasification residuals), and aqueous effluents such as AMD, and associated solids and precipitates resulting from AMD treatment.

Alternate resources (non-coal-based materials) include placer sand deposits, phosphate mine materials, mineral/metal acidic mine drainage, bauxite legacy impoundment materials, biomass, etc.

This FOA requires project teams of subject matter experts and stakeholders from across the entire CM and REE value/supply chain. This will include experts from the areas of resource assessment and characterization; mining and minerals processing; pilot-scale REE and CM facility developers and operators; advanced separation and purification developers; reduction to metal process developers; and a minimum of one industrial partner whose expertise is in manufacturing and/or production of intermediate and/or end-use products containing REE and/or CM.

A maximum of eight awards is anticipated for Phase 1. Applications must be submitted by 1 March 2021.


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