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Title: Coal industry could be in store for a 'rare earth' reboot
Source: Washington Examiner
URL Source: http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/c ... e-earth-reboot/article/2625275
Published: Jun 12, 2017
Author: John Siciliano
Post Date: 2017-06-13 10:42:31 by Tooconservative
Keywords: None
Views: 1964
Comments: 13

The coal industry's future may have much more to do with building smartphones, wind turbines and missile defense radar than billowing smoke stacks and environmental finger pointing, say federal coal advisers and experts.

The direction of the industry is aimed at harvesting what are known as "rare earth elements," for which the U.S. industry depends on China.

The 19 elements are key ingredients in building complex electronics used in smartphones, jets, defense applications, advanced wind turbines and renewable energy, not to mention light-emitting diodes, or LEDs.

The bottom line is that the U.S. needs to diversify its supply of the minerals, and the coal industry is the nation's best ticket to do that.

"To the extent that the administration is interested in and regards national defense as a strong national priority, I would think that they are very interested in securing a secure supply of rare earth elements that don't rely on China," said Paul Ziemkiewicz, West Virginia University's water research director, who is at the forefront of transitioning the coal industry into a source of raw materials and mineral security.

The U.S. uses about 15,000 tons of rare earth elements every year, with about 800 tons of that going to the defense industry, he said. "And that's for high-performance radars, sensors, magnets, some very specialized applications that [should] rely on a strategic reserve in this country."

In 2016 alone, the U.S. imported more than one-half of its supply of 50 types of minerals, eight of which are identified as rare earth elements critical to the economy, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Of those 50 minerals, the U.S. was 100 percent dependent on imports for 20 of them, including all eight critical and rare earth minerals. New data released this year showed that rare earth mining was nonexistent in the U.S. in 2016, while China continued to expand its market and dominate the global supply chain.

On top of the defense applications, rare earths are important in building consumer electronics such as smartphones, which most people now are dependent on.

"Our increasing reliance on foreign sources of rare earth elements, also known as critical minerals, is a national security concern that must be addressed," Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told the Washington Examiner. "We can and should produce rare earth elements in West Virginia, instead of relying on China."

Ziemkiewicz's office is working with the Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory on a pilot project to turn a string of coal mines across Appalachia into an interconnected processing facility for rare earth elements.

Phase-one planning for the project has been completed, and the university research center recently submitted its proposal to the Energy Department for phase two.

"So, the U.S. Department of Energy NETL is very interested in commercialization because of the national defense implications of having a secured, domestic rare earth supply," he said.

He is confident the agency will continue to fund the commercialization effort, given its support for the coal industry and despite President Trump's proposal to cut the budget of the Energy Department's fossil fuel office in fiscal 2018.

The National Coal Council, a top federal advisory board to Energy Secretary Rick Perry, also sees creating a new rare earth market as a necessary part in helping the coal industry recover.

The coal council wants to examine "new markets for coal" as it moves forward in its advisory capacity this year, said Janet Gellici, the council's CEO. Perry hasn't given the coal group its marching orders on a specific set of issues he wants it to focus on, but it is clear that the group will be looking at rare earth elements as a potentially huge area of growth.

"I think there is a lot of opportunity outside of just power generation," Gellici said.

Therefore, it is a top priority to address the new markets, ranging from selling carbon dioxide to help oil drillers get more out of existing wells to mining coal for rare earth elements.

Rare earth minerals can be extracted from coal in three ways. The first is what Ziemkiewicz calls "the fly ash angle," in which "you take coal, burn off all the carbon and leave the rare earths and everything else behind."

The second strategy is to mine coal "in such a way that you're selectively picking off the enriched parts of the binders and mineral matters associated with coal," he said. "And one way to do that is to approach coal tailings, often called refuse in the Appalachians. And that is to a large extent the total rock that is removed during the coal mining process minus a lot of the coal," he explained.

The third approach is the one Ziemkiewicz is looking at, called acid mine drainage, in which rare earth elements are selectively leached out "in addition to other stuff like iron and aluminum," he said.

"To give an idea of scale, Washington is right in the middle of the Pittsburgh coal basin. The Pittsburgh coal seam itself extends from just north of Pittsburgh all the way down to Clarksburg, West Virginia," he said. "And virtually all of that seam along the Monongahela River, and a lot of it along the Ohio River, has been mined out. So, you have all these interconnected mines full of acid mine drainage."

Gellici said the idea of using coal to extract rare minerals is a priority on Capitol Hill and an idea that is "getting some buzz." Even toward the end of the Obama administration, the Energy Department and the National Energy Technology Laboratory began supporting pilot projects like the one at West Virginia University, and she sees that support continuing under the Trump administration.

"I think industry is getting more interested in that opportunity, as well," she said. "It fits quite well with the administration's interest in energy security and balance of trade, since we are getting most of our rare earth elements from China."

It "fits in with support for the industry as well as pressing a couple of buttons that administration has got some interest in," she said.

Nevertheless, the push to develop new markets must be done in conjunction with developing technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of coal for electricity. The development of carbon capture utilization and storage, or CCUS, is a key part of the advisory group's agenda.

The technology captures a coal plant's carbon emissions, where the CO2 can be stored or used in any number of ways, from carbonating soda water for the soft drink industry to being used as an agent to extract oil or to help produce renewable biofuels from algae.

"That needs to continue, and that's a very strong message that's coming from our members," she said. "We do need to prioritize things. There is an urgency about the existing coal fleet. There is an urgency to develop these new markets, but let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater."

"We have got some good work done on CCUS developments and transformational technologies, and that work needs to continue," Gellici added.

The West Virginia delegation in Congress supports the programs, a major reason why the Obama administration stepped in and began funding opportunities to support new markets for coal. Manchin sent Trump a list of priorities for his state for the fiscal 2018 budget, placing priority on supporting the Energy Department's fossil energy office and the National Energy Technology Laboratory.

Manchin said he has used his position on both the energy and appropriations committees to support the rare earths program and will continue to push for more funding for the coal programs at the energy lab.

"As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I fought to include $15 million for the extraction and recovery of rare earth elements and minerals from U.S. coal and coal byproducts in the 2017 funding bill that was passed in the beginning of May," he said. "I will continue to support NETL's critical work to ensure that we have the knowledge and tools to address our nation's energy challenges."

Manchin backs Trump's support for coal miners through the repeal of regulations such as the Clean Power Plan that would close coal plants prematurely in favor of renewables.

On top of that, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, supported comprehensive legislation last year that included creating a rare earth supply chain. The bill failed to move to former President Barack Obama's desk after a long process of negotiation between the Senate and House. She expressed frustration earlier this year with the United States' increased dependency on foreign imports of rare earth elements.

"Instead of lessening our dependence, we are actually increasing our dependence," Murkowski said at a hearing on the issue. She said the country was "not making headway."

Not having the elements "limits our growth, our competitiveness and our national security."

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#1. To: Tooconservative (#0)

I would much rather see the coal companies and any other companies with an interest pursue this on their own. I don't mind the feds expressing an interest in seeing it developed and committing that they need X amount of specific minerals for military use. But subsidizing development is asking for waste mismanagement and corruption.

If some federal regs need to be addressed then taht's a job for Perry's office. "Get the hell out of the way".

Anthem  posted on  2017-06-13   20:26:44 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  

#2. To: Anthem (#1) (Edited)

I would much rather see the coal companies and any other companies with an interest pursue this on their own. I don't mind the feds expressing an interest in seeing it developed and committing that they need X amount of specific minerals for military use. But subsidizing development is asking for waste mismanagement and corruption.

The Chinese have a deliberate (and public) policy of dominating the entire rare earths supply chain.

They are doing to that market what they did to the solar panel market.

So we can sit back and let a rising industrial power establish a complete monopoly on vital materials in high tech industry or we can sit on our hands.

Given that the intervention by the feds here is very minor (compared to a Solyndra or other boondoggles), this is a pretty good investment. Even more so when Trump is trying to kickstart American industry. Of course, Trump is also buying votes in coal country.

Tooconservative  posted on  2017-06-13   21:14:52 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  

#3. To: Tooconservative (#2)

WTF is the WTO doing for us? Pass a tariff on their dirt until they back off the mercantilism.

Anthem  posted on  2017-06-13   22:08:51 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  

#4. To: Tooconservative (#0)

Rick Sixberry, operations general foreman at Molycorp Minerals Mountain Pass rare-earth element mine in Mountain Pass, California, surveys the open pit August 19, 2009.

Photo: David Becker


Molycorp rare earths facility. Mountain Pass, California. (Image from Molycorp's Facebook).


Only producing U.S. rare earths mine goes on the block tomorrow

The D&R terrorists hate us because we're free, to vote second party

"We (government) need to do a lot less, a lot sooner" ~Ron Paul

Hondo68  posted on  2017-06-14   1:27:23 ET  (2 images) Reply   Trace   Private Reply  

#5. To: Anthem (#1) (Edited)

I would much rather see the coal companies and any other companies with an interest pursue this on their own.

A noble capitalistic sentiment but I don’t see that happening since the coal companies and all other companies with an interest are not about to pursue this on their own because they would only lose money in the venture. Molycorp was the U.S.’s only rare-earth mine and it filed for bankruptcy in 2015 while about 90% of China’s rare earth producing companies operate at a loss.

Subsidizing development is asking for waste mismanagement and corruption.

True but not subsidizing development will result in the U.S. remaining almost entirely dependent on China rare earths. China produces more than 85% of the global supply of the 17 elements. Some ways the government wastes our tax dollars on research is loathingly repugnant. I however find the Department of Energy's decision to award $1 million grant to each of three projects to pursue production of saleable rare earth minerals from domestic U.S. coal and coal byproducts to be a commendable necessary undertaking.

If some federal regs need to be addressed then that's a job for Perry's office. "Get the hell out of the way".

Federal regulations are not the problem here. The reliance on China for strategic materials necessary for the defense of out country is. Since private industry will not take action, then the federal government must “get the Hell in there.” Otherwise the U.S. will continue to be beholden to China for more than 90% of its rare earth imports. That is an intolerable situation.

Gatlin  posted on  2017-06-14   4:53:53 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  

#6. To: Anthem (#3)

WTF is the WTO doing for us? Pass a tariff on their dirt until they back off the mercantilism.
What should the WTO be doing for us here?

A tariff would be paid by the private U.S. companies working to defend the U.S. and put that money in the federal government’s coffer. How does that make any sense?

I don’t see this as a case of mercantilism (aka: commercialism) by the nature of its very definition in that China is not “attempting to amass wealth through trade, exporting more than it imports.”

China doesn’t need to export “their dirt” to the U.S. since their producing companies are operating at a loss. Piss China off and China simply cuts the supply of “their dirt” to the U.S. off.

Gatlin  posted on  2017-06-14   5:38:54 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  

#7. To: Tooconservative (#2)

Given that the intervention by the feds here is very minor (compared to a Solyndra or other boondoggles), this is a pretty good investment.

True….very minor and very necessary.

Gatlin  posted on  2017-06-14   5:41:15 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  

#8. To: Anthem (#3)

WTF is the WTO doing for us? Pass a tariff on their dirt until they back off the mercantilism.

Back in 2010 MIT's Technology Review ran this article on how China was using its rare earths monopoly to blackmail other countries in high-tech industry.

So amid much huffing, the Congress tried to do more to stifle the Chinese monopoly and its power in the market.

Eventually, the WTO did act against China.

Mining-Technology.com: The false monopoly: China and the rare earths trade

They maintain with some evidence to back them that China is back to losing money now on rare earths export.

What remains of China's monopoly mostly has power if it was used fiercely and unrelentingly in a time of war. Then it would be crippling to the West.

Wars have been won or lost on such supply issues. Look at what we did to the Nazis and the Japanese and, a bit later, the Soviets.

Tooconservative  posted on  2017-06-14   10:56:04 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  

#9. To: Tooconservative (#8)

This ran in the FT a couple weeks ago. I don't have the link, sorry. Saved it to my "Wall Steet Fucks US" file. Note the loyal citizen [cough] teaming up with the Chinese to bid on it. Ironically, the auction is today.

A battle is heating up for control of a bankrupt mine that is the only significant US source of the rare earth elements used in advanced electronics and some defence applications.

A group led by a former nursing home operator and Switzerland-based private equity fund will vie with a team of US hedge funds and a Chinese rare earths company in an auction set to decide the fate of the bankrupt Molycorp-owned mine on June 14.

At stake is whether the US can successfully mine its own resources of rare earths, which are increasingly being used in electric vehicle magnets as well as wind turbines — and end its reliance on Chinese supplies.

Mike Pompeo, director of the CIA, said this month that the US dependence on foreign sources of rare earths was “a very real concern”.

Last year the US imported $120m of rare earth metals, according to the US Geographical Survey, more than 70 per cent from China.

The winner of the auction is likely to have to pass scrutiny by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US, and take on an estimated $80m in environmental liabilities.

Molycorp invested over $1.5bn into the mine, which is about 50 miles south of Las Vegas, but a collapse in prices of rare earths led the company to declare bankruptcy in 2015.

The mine contains elements such as neodymium, praseodymium and dysprosium that go into magnets used in batteries and wind turbines.

Tom Clarke, a former care home operator who has been buying bankrupt US coal mines, has teamed up with Switzerland-based Pala Investments and Australian rare earths explorer Peak Resources to offer $1.2m for the mine.

“There’s a broad support that we need to have these elements here in the US,” Mr Clarke said, adding that there was a reliable market for the materials given growing demand from electric vehicle batteries.

“We really do believe that even in the current markets certain of these elements will be profitable,” he said.

Set against Mr Clarke in the auction is a group of Molycorp creditor hedge funds. They include Chicago-based JHL Capital Group, run by James Litinsky, and QVT Financial, which have teamed up with Shanghai-listed Shenghe Resources, a rare earths processor.

Adding to the complexity of the process, a company owned by JHL, QVT and New York- based asset manager Oaktree Capital own the mineral rights to the mine.

Mr Clarke said his group could still use the mine site to process material from elsewhere if they did not get the mineral rights — but he hoped to negotiate for them if he wins.

Anthem  posted on  2017-06-14   13:25:53 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  

#10. To: Anthem (#9)

The third approach is the one Ziemkiewicz is looking at, called acid mine drainage, in which rare earth elements are selectively leached out "in addition to other stuff like iron and aluminum," he said.

This was the part that interested me. Leeching rare earths from acidic water in mines is an approach we haven't tried on any scale yet.

The science is promising and the Congress isn't risking much capital in its grant programs. Anyway, it isn't even a flyspeck compared to a complete fiscal disaster like Solyndra.

Tooconservative  posted on  2017-06-14   14:23:47 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  

#11. To: Tooconservative (#10)

I understand, and would be more willing to support it if government were rational. The WTO blundering into China's export policy is evidence of corruption by that stealthy org. Someone was protecting their investment in China, IMO. Had it run its course without WTO interference there would be competitors all over the place and the US industry may have survived (subject to 0bama's meddling).

That China wanted to pull back production was not entirely geopolitical, an argument can be made that it was more for internal concerns: the environmental impact of illegal practices by pirate miners. The WTO proved that the left was right about the lack of environment (and labor) concerns by that body (600 bureaucrats).

So anyway, that was then. Today I can be mollified that at least it's a grant and not a new subsidy fixture (hope springs eternal). As for today's auction, I will try to ignore the hedge fund creeps who should be deported.

Anthem  posted on  2017-06-14   15:47:22 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  

#12. To: Anthem (#11)

The WTO blundering into China's export policy is evidence of corruption by that stealthy org. Someone was protecting their investment in China, IMO. Had it run its course without WTO interference there would be competitors all over the place and the US industry may have survived (subject to 0bama's meddling).

China pointedly and publicly followed a policy of subsidizing all its rare earths. They produced it way under cost and had restrictive contracts on who could buy it and how much. They intended to try to force all industries who wanted rare earths to build factories in China.

This is all quite well known in the tech sector.

WTO intervened because China was clearly breaking a bunch of trade laws on subsidies to establish predatory monopolies or to blackmail their own customers.

Maybe you don't grasp what WTO is supposed to do. Clearly, this is a good example of what they do to try to ensure fair trade among WTO members who have agreed to these rules.

Tooconservative  posted on  2017-06-14   16:07:49 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  

#13. To: Tooconservative (#12)

I have some understanding of the WTO charter. I used to be supportive, in "wait and see" mode. CATO was enthusiastic about it at the time. (I was there at the Seattle protest in '99 just to see what it was all about. Mostly talked with the "Brigadiers" and avoided the worst of the madhouse -- saw a few black hooded anarchists light a dumpster on fire, got a few wiffs of tear gas, and a long look from a stressed out cop as I made my way out of the area, is all).

The thing I'm pointing out is that the WTO didn't stop the subsidies, they stopped the export quotas.

Now maybe China was trying to force tech industries to build factories there, or maybe it was the production / environment problems, or maybe both. All that the WTO accomplished was to force China to open their exports -- at low subsidized prices.

Maybe this is only a central planning type snafu, or maybe it was collusion to protect their monopoly motivated by some investors who already had poured capital into China's production and were in a panic when they saw the export markets closed to them. Maybe there was also the gambit you described.

A single cause - effect is not required. Had the WTO not existed China not only would have lost the gambit you describe, they would have lost their monopoly to competing development in other countries, and perhaps some product substitution in the meantime. I am not well versed in rare earth uses, a smattering may be an exaggeration, but I have seen mention of some uses.

As an aside, I have been a critic of hybrid (and electric) cars for precisely this "dirty" element of the technology; not to mention toxins from batteries. Hydrogen fuel cells also have the problem of highly toxic waste from the dissolution of the anode / cathode. FC cars are lagging for this and other reasons. And unless the "refuel-able" battery becomes a reality, the IC engine remains the most environmentally benign motive power for most vehicles.

Anthem  posted on  2017-06-14   18:07:17 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  

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