Can the US go green without destroying sacred native lands?

Read the full story in Mother Jones.

An Apache group is fighting to stop a massive copper mine in Arizona.

Biden administration launches $500 million program to transform mines into new clean energy hubs

The Biden Administration through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently issued a Request For Information (RFI) to inform a $500 million program funded by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to place clean energy demonstration projects on current or former mine lands across America.

Operated through DOE’s Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations, the Clean Energy Demonstrations on Current and Former Mine Land Program will fund clean energy projects – such as geothermal energy – on mine land to benefit communities and their economies, create good-paying jobs and reduce carbon pollution. The revitalization of mine land to deploy cheaper, cleaner power to more Americans will further the objective of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities which seeks to deliver federal investment to revitalize hard-hit energy communities. It will also advance the Justice40 Initiative which aims to deliver 40% of the benefits of clean energy and climate investments to disadvantaged communities.

“Developing clean energy on mine lands is an opportunity for fossil fuel communities, which have powered our nation for a generation, to receive an economic boost and play a leadership role in our clean energy transition,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “The investments in the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will help America’s mining workforce apply their skills to grow and deploy cheaper, cleaner energy across the country.”   

Located in geographically diverse regions across the U.S, mine land offers an important opportunity to spur economic development and create jobs in clean energy industries. A recent EPA analysis found approximately 17,750 mine land sites located across 1.5 million acres in the United States. If all of these current or former U.S. mine land were to be redeveloped with clean energy projects, up to 89 gigawatts of clean electricity could be deployed, enough to power millions of American homes.

The Clean Energy Demonstration Program on Current and Former Mine Land will demonstrate innovative mine land conversion to clean energy projects with a goal of replication across the country. The program will support projects that demonstrate one or more of the following clean energy technologies on mining sites:

  • Solar
  • Microgrids 
  • Geothermal energy 
  • Direct air capture 
  • Fossil-fueled generation with carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration 
  • Energy storage, including pumped-storage hydropower and compressed air 
  • Advanced nuclear 

Two of the clean energy demonstration projects funded under this program must include solar energy and DOE is seeking information from respondents about opportunities to use domestically-manufactured solar for these projects.

DOE is seeking feedback from a wide range of stakeholders, including industry, community organizations, environmental justice organizations labor unions, and state and local governments. Public input is sought on how to design the program such that it will best encourage private-sector investment in similar projects leading to economic development for underserved communities located near current and former mine land while advancing environmental justice. The selected projects will chart a course to navigate federal, state, and local rules and regulations for siting and grid interconnection, mine remediation, post-mining land use, environmental safety and other important processes to successfully develop and operate clean energy projects on current or former mine land.

In addition to this DOE program, President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides a total of $11.3 billion in abandoned mine land grant funding at the Department of the Interior to eligible states and Tribes to help communities eliminate dangerous environmental hazards and pollution caused by past coal mining while creating jobs and providing opportunities to revitalize coal communities. These reclamation projects enable economic revitalization by rehabilitating hazardous land so that it can be used for recreational facilities or other economic redevelopment uses like advanced manufacturing and renewable energy deployment being funded by this DOE program. 

DOE expects to announce a funding opportunity to solicit project proposals in 2023. 

Feedback to this RFI can be submitted on OCED Exchange

Kansas Geological Survey receives grant to study critical minerals mining potential in region

Read the full story from the University of Kansas.

The Kansas Geological Survey (KGS) at the University of Kansas has been awarded $1.5 million for a two-year project to study the feasibility of recovering minerals critical to advanced and defense manufacturing as well as the clean energy industry from coal deposits, associated rock layers and legacy mining wastes found in Kansas and neighboring states. Critical minerals are defined as raw materials that are vital for the economic or national security and come predominantly from foreign sources that are prone to disruption.

Mining companies back away from Brazil’s Indigenous areas

Read the full story in the Daily Collegian.

Some of the world’s biggest mining companies have withdrawn requests to research and extract minerals on Indigenous land in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, and repudiated Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s efforts to legalize mining activity in the areas.

As the US rushes after the minerals for the energy transition, a 150-year-old law allows mining companies free rein on public lands

Read the full story at Inside Climate News.

The Mining Law of 1872 lets miners pay no royalties for the precious minerals they dig from federal land and requires no restraints on their activities.

Coal mining emits more super-polluting methane than venting and flaring from gas and oil wells, a new study finds

Read the full story at Inside Climate News.

So much methane is released from coal mining, the Global Energy Monitor says, that it exceeds the carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal at over 1,100 coal-fired power plants in China.

DOE grants Ohio University $2M to develop carbon-based materials from mining waste

Read the full story at Construction & Demolition Recycling.

The Russ College of Engineering and Technology’s Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment (ISEE) at Ohio University has been awarded $2 million for two projects by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to develop advanced filaments for additive manufacturing and graphite for energy storage applications from mining wastes.

mindat.org – A Minerals Database

Read the full story at Inside Science Resources.

Mindat.org is a great resource when you need specific information on rocks and minerals, especially if you’re looking for depositional environment or locality data. The rich collection of photos also showcases the variety of forms of minerals. Although this database is maintained and enriched by an army of volunteers who strive to ensure the accuracy of the data, you may still want to consult one or two other sources to cross check the information for consistency.

Science & Tech Spotlight: Deep-Sea Mining

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Why This Matters

The ocean floor contains vast quantities of critical minerals vital for many applications, such as aircraft components and rechargeable batteries. Increased demand for such minerals has driven technology development for exploration and extraction from deep-sea mining. However, the long-term environmental effects from deep-sea mining are as yet unknown.

The Technology

What is it? Deep-sea mining is the process of exploring for and retrieving minerals from the deep seabed. Three types of deposits hold most of these minerals: polymetallic nodules, also called manganese nodules, which are lying on the seabed; sulfide deposits around hydrothermal vents; and ferromanganese crusts, which are rich in cobalt and manganese and line the sides of ridges and seamounts.

These sources hold a wide variety of critical minerals, including cobalt, manganese, titanium, and rare earth elements, as well as gold, copper, and nickel (see fig. 1). Many of these minerals are in international waters. For example, the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, which spans 1.7 million square miles between Hawaii and Mexico, holds trillions of polymetallic nodules. Mining for sand, gravel, and aggregates is underway nearer to shore, but these areas hold only limited critical minerals.

Figure 1. Cross-section of a polymetallic nodule, approximately 1 to 4 inches in diameter, showing the critical minerals that can be found within the nodule, and their applications.

These minerals play an important role in the U.S. economy, contributing to industries such as transportation, defense, aerospace, electronics, energy, construction, and health care. The International Energy Agency expects demand for cobalt, copper, nickel, and rare earth elements to at least double (or possibly more than triple) within the next 20 years. Researchers continue to develop technologies for locating and extracting mineral samples and for establishing deep-sea mining operations.

How does it work? Private companies have developed several technologies and designs for both exploration and systems to deliver extracted material to ships or surface-based mining platforms. For example, underwater remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs) can be used to locate prime extraction sites and collect samples from the seabed.

Companies are also developing technologies to collect material from the seabed. Designs to gather polymetallic nodules include a vacuum to systematically dredge large swaths of the seafloor, along with hydraulic pumps and hose systems that lift the extracted materials to surface vessels or platforms. Extraction of sulfide deposits around hydrothermal vents or the slopes of undersea ridges could involve drilling and cutting into the crust, breaking up the materials, and transporting the pieces to the surface in a similar system (see fig. 2).

Figure 2. Examples of extraction systems for deep-sea mining.

What are some concerns? These deep-sea mining methods may have environmental effects. Specifically, extraction processes create sediment clouds at the seabed or in the water above. These clouds, which could contain toxic heavy metals and spread over long distances, would eventually settle back to the seabed. Furthermore, disturbing the seabed may destroy habitat, with unknown effects on sea life. Researchers are studying these and other effects. For example, in August 2020, a collaborative program involving more than 100 U.S. and international researchers was established to study the potential environmental effects of Pacific Ocean polymetallic nodule mining.

How mature is it? Advances in several technologies have made it possible to explore and sample wide areas of the ocean floor. These advances have generated improvements in undersea imaging, software for predicting the locations of mineral fields, and guidance for ROVs.

Multiple companies are designing and testing technologies for retrieving material, including hydraulic pumping and conveyance systems. Some of this testing has occurred to depths of approximately 21,000 feet.

To date, there are no deep-sea commercial mining operations though several companies are progressing in that direction. For example, a Canadian company reported that it is retrofitting a former ultra-deep-sea drilling vessel as the first sub-sea mining vessel. It anticipates beginning a pilot mining project in mid-2022 to retrieve polymetallic nodules.

Opportunities

  • Technology applications. Minerals found in the seabed, such as cobalt, manganese, nickel, and rare earth elements, are important components of smartphones, steel, and green technologies including solar cells, electric vehicles, and wind turbines. Some of these minerals are rare on land; deep-sea mining could provide a valuable source.
  • Access to critical minerals. According to a 2019 Department of Commence report, the U.S. needs to mitigate the risk of being heavily dependent on critical mineral sources under foreign government control. Currently, such sources include China, Russia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mining deep-sea minerals could provide an alternative source for critical minerals.
  • Less reliance on land-based mining. Land-based mining can adversely affect the terrestrial environment. For example, acid rock drainage (created by the exposure of crushed rocks to air and water) can release harmful contaminants, such as arsenic, mercury, and lead. Advances in deep-sea mining may decrease those effects by reducing the demand for land-based mining.

Challenges

  • Environmental effects. Researchers currently lack data on the extent to which sediment plumes from deep-sea mining could affect ecosystems or spread to other countries on ocean currents.
  • International relations. U.S.-based deep-sea mining companies could face uncertainties when operating beyond the U.S. exclusive economic zone (which generally extends up to 200 nautical miles from shore), according to industry experts. The U.S. has agreements with some countries but is not a party to the 1982 United Nations (UN) Convention on the Law of the Sea and its related International Seabed Authority, which regulates and controls mining of the international seabed area between member countries.

Policy Context and Questions

With increased demand for critical minerals and the unknown long-term environmental effects of deep-sea mining, key questions for policymakers include:

  • What analyses of incentives and barriers might help clarify the viability of private sector deep-sea mining as an alternative to land-based critical mineral resources, especially those under foreign control?
  • What are the trade-offs for the U.S. in ratifying the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea?
  • What research is needed to understand the environmental effects of deep-sea mining and ways to mitigate those effects, and who should conduct this research?

For more information, contact Karen Howard at (202) 512-6888 or HowardK@gao.gov

Coal powered the Industrial Revolution. It left behind an ‘absolutely massive’ environmental catastrophe

Read the full story at Inside Climate News.

Scenes from the end of coal: A blasted mountaintop in Kentucky, an underground inferno in Pennsylvania, slowly dying maples in New Hampshire and a toxic pile of waste in Florida.