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Natural Resources & Energy

University Of Wyoming Scores $3 Million In Rare Earth, Critical Minerals Research Funds

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The University of Wyoming has won two awards from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to support research on critical minerals.

Totaling a combined $3 million, the awards aim to put traditionally energy-producing communities at the forefront of the green economy.

Rare earth elements, and the larger category of critical minerals, are needed for electric vehicles, wind turbines and other green technology. The United States gets most of these minerals from overseas, and the awards also seek to make the U.S. more self-reliant.

The awards also focus on providing a path to economic recovery for fossil fuel-producing communities as demand for renewable energy increases.

Wyoming won two of the DOE's 13 awards. The first aims to stimulate resource development around coal mines in the Powder River Basin. The second aims to research similar opportunities in the Green River Basin.

Scott Quillinan, director of research for the UW School of Energy Resources, said the awards provide for the first phase of a process that could stand-up rare earth industries in both basins.

"In each basin, we have $1.5 million from the Department of Energy," he said. "And that will really go towards setting up the plan, or the framework, for what the later phases of the project will be."

Quillinan said the DOE is interested in non-fuel products derived from coal, something the Carbon Engineering Program at UW has been working at for years.

"They're pretty interested in the re-use of waste streams," he said. "So can we get rare earth elements from produced water that's produced alongside oil and gas, and/or mine tailings piles? Is there any clean up work that can be done and you can still get a value-added product out of it?"

Further phases would require new awards from the Department of Energy. Both Sen. John Barrasso and Rep. Liz Cheney signed letters supporting these projects.

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