Southern West Virginia has long been touted as the home of the billion-dollar coalfields.
But West Virginia may also become home to another multi-billion dollar industry that could help secure the United States’ strategic position in a number of both industrial and military sectors.
According to a recent Duke University report coauthored by Dr. Heileen Hsu-Kim, there are “literally billions of dollars’ worth of rare earth elements contained in our nation’s coal ash.”
And the good news for West Virginia is that the report, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, found that coal from Appalachia has the highest concentration of the most critical rare earth elements.
As background, 16 of the 17 rare earth minerals are actually plentiful in terms of their presence in the earth’s crust, but are difficult to mine due to their geochemical properties and the fact that they occur in very low concentrations, oftentimes within the same ore.
Their strategic importance to industry cannot be overstated, as they are critical components in a wide variety of electronics, computer semiconductors, high performance magnets, and a host of high technology military applications such those that optimize propulsion and guidance systems.
Ironically, rare earth minerals are also integral to a number of renewal energy products such as solar panels, wind turbines, advanced rechargeable batteries, biofuel catalysts and hybrid automobile engines.