Evolve CAPP to explore critical mineral production in SW Virginia


A team of nearly 50 public, private, academic and business professionals is identifying a path to the creation of a brand-new industry in central Appalachia, rooted in Virginia’s southwest region.

Evolve Central Appalachia (Evolve CAPP) focuses on harvesting the industrial, environmental and economic potential of rare earth elements (REE), critical minerals (CM) and high-value, nonfuel, carbon-based products – all out of waste coal. It launched today from its new laboratory in the Virginia Highlands Small Business Incubator in Abingdon, Virginia. 

“Everyday products from appliances to cell phones require critical minerals to manufacture,” said John Warren, Virginia Energy Director. “We need to reverse course on our reliance on global suppliers and Evolve CAPP represents an important step in proving Southwestern Virginia can do it and do it right.”

Managed principally by Virginia Tech, through the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research (VCCER), Evolve CAPP has assembled academic, industry and policy experts in processing, geology, mining, infrastructure, waste and impoundments, carbon products, environment and economic development. The participants seek to leverage a decades-long legacy of Appalachian leadership in energy to generate a new industry and to create better environmental conditions in the Appalachian basin by accelerating waste coal clean up. 

Additional benefits include economic growth and job creation. Evolve CAPP will initiate the harvesting and processing of REE and CM from coal, coal sediments, coal ash, coal refuse and impoundments, acid mine drainage and other basin-specific resources in central Appalachia. At the same time, the initiative will connect these processes to the advancement of American competitive strength in the manufacturing, energy and climate sectors.

“We have an opportunity to take an environmental liability and turn it into an environmental asset,” said Dr. Michael Karmis, who initiated and led this project and has recently retired from Virginia Tech. “We also must realize – the general public as well as scientists, industrialists and regulators – that, at this moment, our use of critical minerals in all types of products and processes makes it imperative that the U.S. enter the supply chain sooner rather than later.”

The U.S. Department of Energy provided the initial funding of $1.499 million to VCCER, and the Virginia Department of Energy provided a contract geologist to serve as an administrator of the project.

Today, it is actually less expensive to insource critical minerals than to produce them in the U.S. Countries that do not have the environmental or worker safety regulations, or may not be aligned with U.S. interests, still can get the minerals into the U.S. at less cost. Getting to critical minerals stateside is clearly an industrial priority, and because it will require facilities, a transportation network and a skilled workforce, a significant investment is warranted.

Southwestern Virginia’s location in central Appalachia is perfect for domestic sourcing and shipment by rail and road to ports on the U.S. eastern seaboard.

“A mineral is critical when it is necessary for continuing our way of life – and when its scarcity is such that supply can be jeopardized,” said Will Payne, Managing Partner of Coalfield Strategies, LLC, and InvestSWVA Project Lead. “If Southwestern Virginia can offer itself to the nation as a domestic sourcing center of critical minerals for manufacturing, it will help the U.S. avoid reliance upon nations that do not share our policy priorities or our legal structure. We believe that the work of this project will alleviate supply chain disruptions and, at the same time, make American companies the major players in the manufacture and distribution of critical mineral-based components.”

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