WVU partners with Extreme Endeavors to mine rare earth elements from acid mine drainage

The process of extracting these elements will help the environment
Published: Jul. 6, 2020 at 6:52 PM EDT
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MONONGALIA COUNTY, W.Va (WDTV) - From decades of mining in West Virginia, over 40 percent of the states rivers are too polluted to be safely used for drinking water or to support aquatic life, according to Appalachian Mountain Advocates. Mike Masterman, owner of Extreme Endeavors, is partnering with WVU’s Water Research Institute to provide a solution that would benefit the environment and the economy. 

"Throughout West Virginia there's a lot of sights where abandoned coal mines, or even one's that aren't abandoned, where the coal leeches out an acid water," he said.

"We took and designed a trailer for them (WVU researchers) so that they could go to any site they wanted to, throw a pump or two in the water, and do processing that then collects a pre-concentrated slurry that we can then take up to a laboratory setting and test it for rare earth elements," Masterman said. 

The trailer was built and designed to remove rare earth elements (REE) from acid mine drainage, which can then be used for profit. These elements can be found in products like smartphones, computers or even heads-up displays for the military. They are a desired natural resources around the world. The United States uses around 15,000 tons of these elements per year and it's mostly imported from China. 

Through this research, it will allow more production of REE's to be provided from within the states. 

"The research is going to lead to a way where you can make a profit by protecting the environment," Masterman said.

In order to protect the environment, the process of removing the rare elements would help prepare safe water for it's reentry into the state's streams and rivers. This is something Masterman believes needs improvement. His company has made its name in the drinking water field, and he has worked with several West Virginia public service districts on modernizing and digitizing their water management systems.

"Anytime that we can take this bad acid mine drainage, treat the water and then discharge it properly, that's only going to help our environment," Masterman said. 

"We're taking what the coal mines have been doing and we're going to change it around to correct their environmental problem and we're going to create another mining product within the state," he said.

Within the next year, the construction for a research facility is going to begin in Mt. Storm at a new acid mine drainage treatment plant.

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