The West Virginia Regional Technology Park, that gem of a research center located in South Charleston, is strategically positioned to help create an entirely new industry in West Virginia.
Tech Park personnel are working with a Florida company to commercialize the processing of rare earth elements.
Our Tech Park facilities were designed and built by Union Carbide Corporation as its worldwide research and technology center to foster world-class research and development of chemical products.
Historically, Union Carbide — and later Dow Chemical Co. — scientists made more than 30,000 patented discoveries or inventions, valued at approximately $18 billion, creating many of the common products we use today.
Specifically, our buildings include laboratory and pilot plants that were engineered to process new chemical feedstocks from bench scale testing all the way through market-ready commercialization.
According to the National Energy Technology Laboratory, an unusually rich cluster and variety of rare earth deposits can be found in the southern coalfields of West Virginia.
Traditionally, rare earth elements are mined from rich ore deposits and then, in a secondary process, separated into the different rare earth elements.
Periodic Products Inc., a Florida corporation, has developed and patented a technology that can extract and concentrate the mixture of rare earth elements from industrial waste, including fly-ash and bottom-ash from coal-fired power plants, in a cost-effective manner.
This process yields mixed rare earth elements at a market cost below that of mined rare earth ores. The Tech Park has proposed the use of its facilities to Periodic Products to utilize this technology for the benefication of rare earth elements from West Virginia coal ash.
Periodic’s president and CEO, Joseph Laurino, Ph.D., visited the Tech Park and noted, “Given the large amount of coal ash in the state, and the current mining workforce, and the technological facilities and expertise at the Tech Park, West Virginia is uniquely suited to become the leader in processing rare earth elements from coal ash, providing high-paying jobs both today and in the future.”
Rare earth development is in its early stages in West Virginia. Nevertheless, the importance of becoming a leader in the recovery of rare earths cannot be overstated, and developing an abundant market-ready supply in the United States is essential to growing manufacturing in this country.
The West Virginia Regional Technology Park, by virtue of its location, facilities and personnel, is strategically positioned to play a key role in development of this new industry.
According to Dr. Laurino, “While the rare earth industry produces annual revenues of $4 billion, the industries that use rare earths as raw materials produce annual revenues of $4 trillion. Many of these high-tech companies have already moved their operations to China to take advantage of the readily available supply of rare earths.”
Making rare earth elements available in West Virginia can help stem the tide of off-shoring U.S. industry and further position our state as an advanced commercialization center for high-tech industries.
We are already home to a number of chemical companies whose operations manufacture millions of dollars of specialty chemicals annually at the Tech Park.
The local chemical and engineering expertise here in the Kanawha Valley provides additional incentives for growing this industry here in West Virginia.
Just as China has done since 2000, West Virginia needs to place the availability of rare earth elements at the center of its strategy to retain and build high-tech companies that help create jobs here at home.
Rusty Kruzelock is the CEO of the West Virginia Regional Technology Park.