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News | Sept. 20, 2021

DoD Paves the Way for Critical Mineral Recovery from Coal Ash

Physical Sciences Inc. (PSI), in partnership with the Department of Defense’s Office of Industrial Policy (IndPol), recently kicked off the “Critical Minerals from Coal Ash” prototype pilot project.  This $4 million, 30-month project funded under IndPol’s Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment (IBAS) program will develop and demonstrate next generation technologies for recovery of critical minerals, including rare earth elements/rare earth oxides (REE/REOs), from coal ash using a domestic supply source.

A pilot-scale facility designed, constructed, and operated by Winner Water Services of Sharon, Pennsylvania will employ PSI’s patented extraction technology to produce over 12 kilograms (kg) of mixed REO concentrate from over 50 tons of ponded coal ash supplied by Southern Company Services of Birmingham, Alabama.  Three 1 kg samples of the concentrate will be shipped to PSI team member Neo Performance Materials in Sillamäe, Estonia for proof-of-concept REE separation and refinement. 

The Director of the IBAS Program, Ms. Adele Ratcliff stated, “As per the recommendations in the 100-day assessment on critical minerals under Executive Order 14017, the Department of Defense fully supports interagency research and development.  This effort originally started under funding from the Department of Energy and we are thrilled to help advance this novel technology.”   

This pilot project operates as a public-private partnership under the IBAS Program and brings together industry innovation leaders such as PSI with technology materials companies at home and abroad.

PSI’s Principal Investigator and Project Manager, Dr. Dorin V. Preda, stated, “This project will demonstrate and optimize key operations at the pilot-scale to enable rare earth products to be readily inserted into the supply chain, reduce commercialization risk, and improve overall process profitability.”

Many of these rare earth elements and oxides are critical to numerous defense and commercial applications, including technologies critical to our green future including electric vehicle drive motors. Additional applications include hard disk-drive motors used in data storage centers; satellites and lasers; magnets used in precision-guided munitions, optics and audio systems; petroleum refining; and glass additives.  The refinement process will result in individual oxides achieving a purity level exceeding 90 percent.

“The U.S. needs to continue to push the scientific envelope to develop secure, reliable, and affordable domestic source critical minerals used in defense and commercial manufacturing in order to reduce its dependence on foreign sources in a time of great power competition,” said Mr. Jesse Salazar, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Industrial Policy.

For additional information on this project, please email the IBAS team at osd.pentagon.ousd-a-s.mbx.ibas@mail.mil