Don’t assume that future extraction of vital minerals and “rare” earths will utilize the same processes that have been used historically. Huge incentives now to work on this challenge. Just a few ideas here.

Rice University:

The Rice lab of chemist James Tour reports it has successfully extracted valuable rare earth elements (REE) from waste at yields high enough to resolve issues for manufacturers while boosting their profits. 

The lab’s flash Joule heating process, introduced several years ago to produce graphene from any solid carbon source, has now been applied to three sources of rare earth elements — coal fly ashbauxite residue and electronic waste — to recover rare earth metals, which have magnetic and electronic properties critical to modern electronics and green technologies.

The researchers say their process is kinder to the environment by using far less energy and turning the stream of acid often used to recover the elements into a trickle.

The study appears in Science Advances.                                                             

Rare earth elements aren’t actually rare. One of them, cerium, is more abundant than copper, and all are more abundant than gold. But these 15 lanthanide elements, along with yttrium and scandium, are widely distributed and difficult to extract from mined materials.

“The U.S. used to mine rare earth elements, but you get a lot of radioactive elements as well,” Tour said. “You’re not allowed to reinject the water, and it has to be disposed of, which is expensive and problematic. On the day the U.S. did away with all rare earth mining, the foreign sources raised their price tenfold.”

So there’s plenty of incentive to recycle what’s been mined already, he said. Much of that is piled up or buried in fly ash, the byproduct of coal-fired power plants. “We have mountains of it,” he said. “The residue of burning coal is silicon, aluminum, iron and calcium oxides that form glass around the trace elements, making them very hard to extract.” Bauxite residue, sometimes called red mud, is the toxic byproduct of aluminum production, while electronic waste is from outdated devices like computers and smart phones.   

While industrial extraction from these wastes commonly involves leaching with strong acid, a time-consuming, non-green process, the Rice lab heats fly ash and other materials (combined with carbon black to enhance conductivity) to about 3,000 degrees Celsius (5,432 degrees Fahrenheit) in a second. The process turns the waste into highly soluble “activated REE species.”

Tour said treating fly ash by flash Joule heating “breaks the glass that encases these elements and converts REE phosphates to metal oxides that dissolve much more easily.” Industrial processes use a 15-molar concentration of nitric acid to extract the materials; the Rice process uses a much milder 0.1-molar concentration of hydrochloric acid that still yields more product.

In experiments led by postdoctoral researcher and lead author Bing Deng, the researchers found flash Joule heating coal fly ash (CFA) more than doubled the yield of most of the rare earth elements using very mild acid compared to leaching untreated CFA in strong acids.

“The strategy is general for various wastes,” Bing said. “We proved that the REE recovery yields were improved from coal fly ash, bauxite residue and electronic wastes by the same activation process.” 

The generality of the process makes it especially promising, Bing said, as millions of tons of bauxite residue and electronic waste are also produced every year.

“The Department of Energy has determined this is a critical need that has to be resolved,” Tour said. “Our process tells the country that we’re no longer dependent on environmentally detrimental mining or foreign sources for rare earth elements.”

Tour’s lab introduced flash Joule heating in 2020 to convert coal, petroleum coke and trash into graphene, the single-atom-thick form of carbon, a process now being commercialized. The lab has since adapted the process to convert plastic waste into graphene and to extract precious metals from electronic waste.

FIGURE 5. SEM micrograph of natural walnut shell before and after rare-earth elements adsorption at 700×. (A) Natural walnut shell (WS); (B) Nd adsorption onto WS; (C) La adsorption onto WS; (D) Gd adsorption onto WS; (E) Sm adsorption onto WS; (F)Eu adsorption onto WS. Arrows indicate the presence of porous.


Agricultural wastes are considered as green adsorbents that can work as an alternative to recover critical and scarce metals from secondary sources. Critical elements as rare-earth elements (REEs) can be obtained from electronic wastes or tailings and could be recovered using these green alternatives. In this study, walnut shell (WS) was tested to determine whether several REEs can be efficiently retained by this green adsorbent.

Employment of walnut shell as a raw material for the adsorption of metals is a useful recycling process. The good adsorption capacity and removal efficiency of WS might be successfully used for adsorbing Eu, La, Sm, and Gd from aqueous solution.

It is concluded that WS is a green and environmentally friendly biomaterial with high capacity toward retaining several metals, specifically REEs. Moreover, although no activation was done, we could obtain high adsorption with natural WS, becoming in excellent results for upcoming work. Then, WS has the potential to be used in the future to recover REEs from different secondary sources, such as waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) or mine tailing, and to contribute to circular economy.


Copper remains one of the single most ubiquitous metals in everyday life. As a conductor of heat and electricity, it is utilized in wires, roofing, and plumbing, as well as a catalyst for petrochemical plants, solar and electrical conductors, and for a wide range of energy-related applications. Subsequently, any method to harvest more of the valuable commodity proves a useful endeavor.

Read the rest of this entry »

Above, a pre-election report from Deutsche Welle (Germany) on renewable energy’s penetration in Red West Virginia.

Bloomberg Energy:

At least $25.7 billion in new US clean-energy factories are in the works, thanks in part to the generous subsidies in President Joe Biden’s landmark climate law. Most of these projects — and the jobs that come with them — are in traditionally conservative states.

In Dalton, Georgia, green energy hasn’t been a priority. Its Congressional representative, Marjorie Taylor Greene, has said that “Earth warming and carbon is actually healthy for us.

But as I learned during a visit there last month, a new solar-panel factory is changing minds in the city of 34,000. Indeed, the presence of new jobs is transforming solar power into a tangible community benefit.

Analysts say there’s a lesson in that: The new jobs at these green factories may function as a political game-changer. “That may be an implicit long-term strategy for the Democrats: With domestic manufacturing likely in traditional Republican districts, the partisan split may soften on renewables,” Timothy Fox, an analyst at ClearView Energy Partners, told me.

Some Republicans in Georgia also see these factories as politically beneficial. Governor Brian Kemp, in his successful campaign for re-election, touted a surge in green jobs across the Peach State. There’s a battery plant so massive that it stretches half-a-mile along a freeway northeast of Atlanta — and more facilities are on the way. Hyundai Motor Co., for instance, just started building a $5.5 billion electric-vehicle plant near Savannah.

This phenomenon isn’t confined to Georgia. Republicans in historically conservative states in the South and Midwest that once resisted the clean-energy movement are now competing for these factories. Some are offering property-tax abatements, site-clearing and other infrastructure improvements. (It also helps that several are right-to-work states, which makes it harder for workers to unionize.)

While some Republicans in Washington have long backed wind power, the party’s embrace of clean energy is still limited. Not a single Republican member of Congress supported the Inflation Reduction Act, which features $374 billion in climate-related spending, including the perks for domestic cleantech plants. And Herschel Walker, Georgia’s Republican candidate for Senate in a December run-off election against incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock, has opposed the law.

Read the rest of this entry »

Laurence Smith PhD in the New York Times:

Last month, record low water levels in the Mississippi River backed up nearly 3,000 barges — the equivalent of 210,000 container trucks — on America’s most important inland waterway. Despite frantic dredging, farmers could move only half the corn they’d shipped the same time last year. Deliveries of fuel, coal, industrial chemicals and building materials were similarly delayed throughout the nation’s heartland.

This critical river and its tributaries — responsible for transporting more than $17 billion worth of farm products and 60 percent of all U.S. corn and soybean exports annually — has been stricken by drought since September, amid a time of global grain shortage and soaring food prices. While water levels will recover modestly this week, thanks to some upstream rain and snow, the long-term forecast remains dry.

Conditions are even worse in the southwestern United States, where an ongoing 22-year drought — now the harshest in 1,200 years — has shriveled Colorado River reservoirs, straining water supplies for farms, cities and hydropower from the Hoover Dam. Across the Atlantic in Germany, warmer temperatures and longer droughts have shrunk the Rhine River, making navigation harrowing on a waterway responsible for up to 80 percent of the country’s ship-bound cargo.

Economic powerhouse rivers like these are being sucked dry not only by climate change but by fast-growing cities and farming operations that need more water. Agriculture is the single largest consumer of freshwater, and global food demand is still rising.

There are no new rivers left to tap. We must learn to do more with less.

Because rivers deposit sand, plugging shipping channels and reservoirs, their power to move sediment is normally framed as a problem to be fixed by dredging. But in Louisiana, where coastal wetlands are disappearing rapidly, a roughly $2.2 billion proposal is advancing to divert part of the Mississippi River into Barataria Bay, where additional sediment can help protect it from rising sea levels. Using BP settlement money from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill catastrophe, the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion would mimic natural delta-building processes in a place that has lost hundreds of square miles of coastal land over the last century. Projects like this one make the Mississippi’s ability to move sediment an asset rather than an expense.

If reservoirs fall to the point where they can barely be used for hydropower, they can still be used to store intermittent wind and solar energy — by recycling water that has already passed through the dam’s turbines back into its reservoir.

One outlandish proposal to do this at a massive scale reimagines the Hoover Dam as a three-billion-dollar renewable energy battery, connecting it to vast new solar and wind farms. While logistical issues make this particular idea a moonshot, there are plenty of opportunities to connect dams with renewable energy farms at a much smaller scale and lower cost.

Read the rest of this entry »

“To Hell With the Planet”

November 28, 2022

On ancient microbes thawing from frozen sleep, there’s good news and bad news.

New Scientist:

Seven types of viruses that have lain frozen in the Siberian permafrost for thousands of years have been revived. The youngest were frozen for 27,000 years, while the oldest was on ice for 48,500 years – making it the most ancient virus resuscitated so far.

“48,500 years is a world record,” says Jean-Michel Claverie at Aix-Marseille University in France, who did the work with his colleagues. His team has previously revived two 30,000-year-old viruses from permafrost, the first of which was announced in 2014.

The team says the fact that all nine viruses remained capable of infecting cells shows that ancient viruses from melting permafrost are a threat to the health of plants and animals, including us.

While 48,500 years may be a record for a virus, several groups claim to have revived bacteria trapped in sedimentsice or salt crystals that are up to 250 million years old. However, it remains unclear whether the organisms are actually that old or are much younger ones that contaminated samples.

The nine viruses Claverie’s team has revived are distinct from all previously known ones, he says, so are very unlikely to be from contamination of the sample by modern entities. The team discounted several other apparently revived viruses because their genomes were too similar to known ones.

It could well be possible to resurrect viruses that are much more than 48,500 years old, says Claverie. The deepest permafrost is up to a million years old. However, it is difficult to establish the age of ancient permafrost because standard radiocarbon dating doesn’t work beyond 50,000 years.

The 48,500-year-old virus came from permafrost 16 metres below the bottom of a lake in Yukechi Alas in Yakutia, Russia. It is a type of pandoravirus – a giant virus that infects single-cell organisms known as amoebas.

In fact, all the nine viruses revived by the team so far are giant amoeba-infecting viruses because this is all the team looks for. The researchers add permafrost samples to cultures of amoebas and inspect them under a microscope for signs of infection, which shows the virus is “alive” and replicating.

If ancient giant viruses remain infectious after being frozen for such a long time, other kinds will too, says Claverie.

Eric Delwart of the University of California, San Francisco, who has recreated plant viruses from long-frozen caribou faeces, agrees.

“If the authors are indeed isolating live viruses from ancient permafrost, it is likely that the even smaller, simpler mammalian viruses would also survive frozen for eons,” says Delwart.

A team of researchers affiliated with multiple institutions across Europe, the U.K. and Canada has found that hundreds of thousands of tons of bacteria are currently being released annually into the environment by melting glaciers in the northern latitudes. In their paper published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, the group describes sampling glacial runoff from multiple sites in Europe, North America and Greenland.

Read the rest of this entry »

Always dedicated to doing research, I saw the ad above while watching my Michigan Wolverines totally dominate the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Underlining the advantages that EVs hold for fleet owners. In August, Hertz Car Rental management underlined how the Teslas in its fleet were 50 to 60 percent cheaper to maintain. (they plan on adding 100,000 Teslas, as well as 100s of thousands of GM and other EVs.

Having their own EVs will help Dominos attract more drivers in a labor-short market.

Yahoo News:

All this new job creation involves one specific product: Electric vehicles or EVs. The Hyundai Metaplant will build EVs exclusively, as will another facility planned for Georgia along Interstate 20, that one for Rivian. The Rivian plant estimates hiring 7,500 employees.

Right now, along Interstate 85 north of Athens, a factory that makes batteries for Ford’s all-electric F-150 Lightning is open and will employ 2,600 Georgians by the end of 2023.

It’s not hyperbole to say EVs are a new cornerstone of Georgia’s manufacturing economy. Clever journalists have already dubbed the state the “Battery Belt.”

Yet one high-profile Georgian stands against EVs: Would-be Sen. Walker.

Walker is campaigning against EVs. “I don’t want an electric car, I like my hot rod,” Walker told several hundred at an early November rally in Richmond Hill — a couple dozen miles away from the Hyundai site.

He doubled down following his second-place finish in the Nov. 8 election, telling a crowd in Peachtree City, “What we need to do is keep having those gas-guzzling cars. We got the good emissions under those cars.” He repeated the mantra in a stop in Augusta as well.

Walker is dissing EVs as part of a broader attack on what he calls “green new deal” policies championed by Democratic President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress, such as his runoff opponent, Sen. Raphael Warnock.

But for all but the GOP zealots, the approach has less juice than an EV in need of a charge. Georgia leaders, who are overwhelmingly Republican, are behind the push to attract EV manufacturers and related businesses to the state.

Read the rest of this entry »