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Rare Earth

WVU team studying mineral recovery

Mention gadolinium, ytterbium and praseodymium to a friend and the reaction is likely to be, “Huh?” Yet the substances and 14 others also classed as rare-earth minerals are important. They are used in a variety of manufacturing, including cellphones and television sets.

Until the 1980s, a mine in California was among the world’s primary sources of rare-earth minerals. It closed years ago. Now, 81% of rare-earth production is in China.

Yes, that is a problem, for various reasons including our economy and national security.

U.S. researchers are attempting to find other ways to produce rare-earth minerals. One possibility — and it is only that, at this point — is coal mine tailings.

U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., has announced that West Virginia University has received a $5 million federal grant to pursue research in rare-earth mineral recovery. That is excellent news, in part because if there is a way for such work to benefit West Virginia, WVU is likely to find it.

A team of WVU researchers led by Paul Ziemkiewicz is studying concentrations of rare-earth minerals at 120 acid mine drainage treatment sites in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Good luck to them in a very important project.

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