Coal mine drainage (CMD) impairs tens of thousands of kilometers of U.S. waterways each year, in part with the leaching of low concentrations of rare earth elements (REEs). REEs are essential for modern technologies, yet economically viable natural deposits are geospatially limited, thus engendering geopolitical concerns, and their mining is energy intense and environmentally destructive. This work summarizes laboratory-scale experimental results of a trap-extract-precipitate (TEP) process and uses the mass and energy balances to estimate the economic costs and environmental impacts of the TEP. The TEP process uses the alkalinity and filtering capacity of stabilized flue gas desulfurization (sFGD) material or water treatment plant (WTP) sludge to remediate CMD waters and extract REEs. Passive treatment systems that use WTP sludge are cheaper than those that use sFGD material ($89,300/year or $86/gT-REE vs. $89,800/year or $278/gT-REE) and have improved environmental performance across all indicators from two different impact assessment methods. These differences are largely attributable to the larger neutralizing capacity of WTP sludge in the treatment application.
Miranda, M.*, Bielicki, J., Chun, S.*, Cheng, C-M. (2022). "Recovering Rare Earth Elements from Coal Mine Drainage Using Industrial Byproducts: Environmental and Economic Consequences." Environmental Engineering Science, 38(9), 770-783. https://doi.org/10.1089/ees.2021.0378