Coal waste project launches in SW Va.
Evolve Central Appalachia is led by Virginia Tech center
A public-private project to evaluate the critical minerals in coal waste products in Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky launched Wednesday with a community meeting in the Virginia Highlands Small Business Incubator in Abingdon.
The project, Evolve Central Appalachia (Evolve CAPP), is part of an almost $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Energy Department to the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research (VCCER) at Virginia Tech. VCCER Director Michael Karmis estimates the first phase of the project — a study analyzing what minerals the areas have and how they can be extracted — will take about three years.
Critical minerals — used in computers, household appliances, clean energy technology and other products — are vital to the nation’s economy but the supply is vulnerable to disruptions. Such minerals native to the United States include rare earth elements plus lithium and cobalt.
After researching which minerals are present in the region, Evolve CAPP will present its findings to the Energy Department. If the department provides funding for a second phase, researchers would look into extraction technology and commercial development, which could help the U.S. reduce its dependence on other countries’ production.
“The project is focused on developing jobs and opportunities for the coalfields,” Karmis said. Evolve CAPP seeks to develop the processing of coal waste and advanced manufacturing needed to create usable critical minerals in the three involved states — not just export raw materials.
The project has nearly 50 partners across varying sectors: academia, government, private research, economic development, private technology and energy and power. Karmis and Richard Bishop lead the Virginia Tech team, and Mountain Empire Community College, the University of Kentucky and West Virginia University are academic partners. Virginia’s Energy Department, the U.S. Geological Survey and Oak Ridge National Laboratory are government partners, and other groups involved include InvestSWVA, Coalfield Strategies LLC, LENOWISCO Planning District, Dominion Energy Inc., Kentucky-based Blackhawk Mining LLC and Roanoke’s Separation Technologies LLC.
Will Clear, deputy director of the Virginia Department of Energy, says he appreciates that Evolve CAPP has environmental benefits as well, providing a use for “gob” piles — short for “garbage of bituminous” — made of waste products from mining before federal regulations were in place.
“We think there’s a parallel track with what we’re doing to sort of remediate this environmental problem but also look at ways to really utilize these gob piles as a resource,” he said.