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Knoxville Business News Tennessee Mountain Scenery Background
March 20, 2022 | Tom Ballard

New initiative focused on harvesting and processing of REEs and CMs from coal

A team from nearly 50 organizations, including the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), is working together to identify a path to the creation of a brand-new industry in Central Appalachia that will be rooted in Virginia’s southwest region, and it is addressing a critical need in this country for electronics among other areas.

Named “Evolve Central Appalachia” (Evolve CAPP), the effort is focused on harvesting the industrial, environmental, and economic potential of rare earth elements (REE), critical minerals (CM), and high-value, nonfuel, carbon-based products – all out of waste coal. It launched last week from its new laboratory in the Virginia Highlands Small Business Incubator in Abingdon, VA.

As described in this news release (Evolve CAPP Press Release), Evolve CAPP is managed principally by Virginia Tech University, through the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research (VCCER). The nearly 50-member team includes academic, industry and policy experts in processing, geology, mining, infrastructure, waste and impoundments, carbon products, environment and economic development.

“The participants seek to leverage a decades-long legacy of Appalachian leadership in energy to generate a new industry and to create better environmental conditions in the Appalachian basin by accelerating waste coal clean-up,” according to the description in the news release. “Evolve CAPP will initiate the harvesting and processing of REE and CM from coal, coal sediments, coal ash, coal refuse and impoundments, acid mine drainage and other basin-specific resources in Central Appalachia. At the same time, the initiative will connect these processes to the advancement of American competitive strength in the manufacturing, energy and climate sectors.”

There are seven stated objectives for the effort:

  • Determine the quantity and distribution of resources in the region;
  • Formulate strategies to utilize coal waste streams to produce useful fuels and materials;
  • Evaluate regional infrastructure and identify industries that may benefit from REE and CM production;
  • Develop strategies to encourage business development;
  • Guide research and development of new technologies;
  • Frame plans to establish technology innovation centers; and
  • Implement stakeholder outreach and education initiatives.

The U.S. Department of Energy provided the initial funding of $1.499 million to VCCER, and the Virginia Department of Energy provided a contract geologist to serve as an administrator of the project. Those collaborating include:

  • Academic partners: West Virginia University, the University of Kentucky and Virginia’s Mountain Empire Community College.
  • Government research partners: the Virginia Department of Energy, the U.S. Geological Survey and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
  • Private research partners: Marshall Miller & Associates, Advanced Resources International, Crescent RI, Gray Energy Technologies and Southern States Energy Board.
  • Economic development partners: InvestSWVA, Coalfield Strategies, LENOWISCO Planning District, Southwest Virginia Energy Research and Development Authority, the Virginia Highlands Small Business Incubator, the Industrial Development Authority of Washington County, Virginia, and Wise County, Virginia.
  • Private technology partners: Ramco Carbon, Separation Technologies, Carbon Technology Company and Alios Pty Ltd.
  • Power producing partners: Dominion Energy, TVA, and American Electric Power.
  • Energy producing partners: Alpha Metallurgical Resources, American Consolidated Natural Resources, Blackhawk Mining, Consol Energy, Coronado-Buchanan Minerals, EnerVest, Metinvest-United Coal Company, Ramaco Resources, Natural Resource Partners, Harrison-Wyatt & Buchanan Energy and Kentucky River Properties.
  • Stakeholder advisors: Leon Boyd of Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Jason De La Cruz of Dominion Energy, Kevin Elkins of Buchanan Minerals, Joseph Fawbush, Mayor of the City of Norton, Frank B. Harrington of Alpha Metallurgical Resources, Neil Mosely of Blackhawk Mining, LLC, Will Payne of Coalfield Strategies, and Thomas Pruitt of Mineral Owners.

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