As part of US President Biden’s commitment to Investing in America, the US Department of Energy (DOE) has announced a $32m allocation towards projects aimed at establishing facilities for the production of rare earth elements and other critical minerals and materials using domestic coal-based resources.

This funding, made available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, aims to bolster domestic supply chains, meet the increasing demand for critical minerals, and reduce dependence on foreign sources.

The significance of rare earth elements and other critical minerals lies in their crucial role in manufacturing clean energy technologies within the US. These technologies encompass a wide range of sustainable solutions, including solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles, and hydrogen fuel cells.

Coal and its byproducts contain a diverse array of valuable rare earth elements that can be used in clean energy technologies.

US Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said: “President Biden’s Investing in America agenda is providing a historic opportunity to convert coal products into the critical materials needed to build an array of clean energy products.

“The President’s transformative investments will strengthen our national security by lessening our dependence on international supply chains, while delivering high-quality jobs and healthier communities for all Americans.”

At present, the US heavily relies on importing over 80% of its rare earth elements from foreign suppliers. However, these valuable resources are naturally present within its borders, including in domestic coal and coal wastes. The recently announced funding opportunity aims to leverage this unconventional resource to establish a domestic supply chain that is vital to the US economy, clean energy initiatives, and national security.

Through this programme, research, development, and demonstration projects will be funded, specifically targeting the establishment of intermediate- and/or demonstration-scale facilities across the nation for the production and refining of rare earth elements and other critical minerals.

The program will support FEED (Front-End Engineering Design) studies, which play a crucial role in defining the technical requirements of the projects, including project scope, schedule, and costs. These studies will help mitigate risks during the construction and operation phases of the future facilities.

The extraction, separation, and production of rare earth elements and other critical minerals will make use of more than 250 billion tonnes of coal reserves, over 4 billion tonnes of waste coal, and approximately 2 billion tonnes of coal ash found at various sites across the country. This approach ensures the responsible utilisation of these resources while supporting economic growth and environmental sustainability.

Under this funding opportunity, applicants are required to provide a detailed explanation of how their projects will deliver both economic and environmental benefits while mitigating any potential negative impacts. This includes outlining plans for community and stakeholder engagement to ensure that all relevant parties are involved, and their perspectives are considered.

Since January 2021, the US Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management has made significant investments of over $41m in projects aimed at supporting the identification and production of rare earth elements and other critical minerals and materials. These investments specifically target traditional fossil fuel-producing communities across the nation.