Coal Waste :
Coal Mines are one of the most hazardous mines that devastate not just human health but everything around it, the coal waste produced while mining gets mixed with the regional waterbodies, making them acidic and toxic for life.
Researchers concerned with its devastating results on Nature are trying hard to reduce the impact of coal waste. They have found a way to clean up the pollution by extracting Rare Earth Elements (REEs).
Rare Earth Elements (REEs) are a group of 17 elements that are critical for a wide range of technologies, including smartphones, wind turbines, and electric vehicles. These elements are typically found in small quantities in the earth’s crust and are difficult and expensive to extract.
This unexpected source: Coal waste, also known as coal ash, is the residue left over after burning coal. It is typically disposed of in landfills or impoundments where it could reach and pollute groundwater.
Coal waste has been found to contain significant quantities of REEs. In fact, researchers have found that coal ash contains up to 10 times more REEs than the typical ore used to extract these elements.
“From a few hundred sites already treating acid mine drainage, nearly 600 metric tons of rare earth elements and cobalt – another in-demand metal could be produced annually,” estimated Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute in Morgantown.
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The process of extracting REEs from coal ash is relatively simple. The ash is first ground into a fine powder and then mixed with a solution of sulfuric acid. This mixture is heated, causing the REEs to dissolve into the acid solution. The solution is then separated from the ash, and the REEs are extracted from the solution through a process known as solvent extraction.
Not only does this method provide a new source of REEs, but it also has the potential to provide a solution to the problem of coal ash disposal. Coal ash is not only a potential source of REEs, but it is also a significant environmental concern.
The ash contains heavy metals and other toxins that can leach into the groundwater and cause health problems. By extracting REEs from the ash, it can be used in a more sustainable way and reduce the environmental impact of coal waste.
This method is not yet widely used, and further research is needed to optimize the process and make it cost-effective. Researchers have started a pilot project in West Virginia’s acid mine drainage treatment site to determine its efficiency.
However, it has the potential to be a game-changer in the REE industry, providing a new source of these critical elements and addressing the problem of coal ash disposal.
In conclusion, rare earth elements could be extracted from coal waste which not only provides a new source of these critical elements but also provides a solution to the problem of coal ash disposal, being a sustainable way to reduce the environmental impact of coal waste and to meet the growing demand for REEs in various industries. Further research is needed to optimize the process and make it cost-effective.