DOE Funds Study of Domestic Supply Chain for Critical Minerals for Wind Turbines


The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a Notice of Intent (NOI) to fund a $32 million Bipartisan Infrastructure Law program supporting front-end engineering design (FEED) studies to produce rare earth elements (REEs) and other critical minerals and materials (CMMs) from domestic coal-based resources.

Rare earth elements and other critical minerals are key to manufacturing clean energy technologies – such as solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cells – that will help the nation reach the Biden-Harris administration’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. Converting coal production waste into components of clean energy technology can create good-paying jobs in communities that have historically produced fossil energy fuels and power.  

“The president’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is delivering an important opportunity for American leadership to produce critical minerals and materials – the very components needed to develop clean energy technologies,” states U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “By producing rare earth elements and critical minerals here at home, we’ll create good-paying jobs while enhancing national security and securing the supply chains we need to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

The United States currently imports more than 80% of its rare earth elements from offshore suppliers to produce clean energy technologies and other indispensable products that we rely on every day such as smart phones, computers and medical equipment. Across the country, there are billions of tons of coal waste and ash, acid mine drainage, and discharged water. Fortunately, these waste streams from mining, energy production and related activities contain a wide variety of valuable rare earth elements and other critical minerals that can be produced and used to build clean energy technologies, while helping to create healthier environments for communities across the country. 

To help build a domestic supply chain critical to the U.S. economy and national security, this funding will produce FEED studies that will accelerate the application of extraction and processing technologies for producing critical minerals from our abundant national sources of coal and coal by-products. FEED studies are detailed engineering and cost studies for specific facilities from real-world feedstocks, that will identify risks, costs and plans for projects to develop technologies that produce REEs and other CMMs from domestic coal-based resources and associated by-products, such as coal ash, mine waste and acid mine drainage. This effort will further enable greater opportunities for the development of large-scale pilot or demonstration facilities across the country.  

Since January 2021, DOE has invested $25 million in 21 projects in Appalachia, the Gulf Coast, and other West and Midwest locations to support the production of rare earth elements and critical minerals in traditional fossil fuel-producing communities across the country. DOE also recently announced up to $156 million in funding from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for a first-of-a-kind facility to extract and separate REEs and critical minerals from unconventional sources like mining waste. This funding will help expand upon these efforts and create new opportunities to remediate land and water while generating REE necessary for a clean energy economy. 

Applicants will be required to carefully consider societal impacts and benefits to impacted workers and communities at local and regional levels, including emphasizing community and labor engagement, the creation of high-quality jobs that are broadly accessible with pathways to unionization, and avoiding the imposition of additional burdens on already overburdened communities through implementation of the Justice40 initiative.

DOE expects to issue the Funding Opportunity Announcement in January 2023. This effort is managed by DOE’s Office of Manufacturing and Energy Supply Chains and Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management.

Image: Sam Cumming on Unsplash

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