Demand for rare earth elements could mean new opportunities for Webster County
Many of the technologies we rely on today – everything from TVs and cell phones to fighter jets and electric vehicles – require rare earth elements for production. However, the U.S. relies heavily on imports to meet demand for these materials. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, China was responsible for 80 percent of rare earths imports in 2019.
A new initiative to study the production of rare earth elements domestically could lead to huge economic development opportunities for coal communities in Kentucky.
MP Materials, the largest rare earth element producer in the United States, was recently awarded a $3 million Department of Energy grant to advance production to a commercial level. A successful next phase could lead to a $100 million investment in Webster County that would bring 96 jobs to the county in processing and recovery.
Local officials and community members are optimistic about the future of this initiative for both western Kentucky and the state as a whole.
“The overall economic impact for coal communities reaches into a completely new realm,” Webster County Judge/Executive Stephen Henry said. “Because of the value of the minerals, we believe that it puts coal communities in a position to attract manufacturers that have historically been located on the west coast. The need for rare earth elements will only expand in the future.”
Earlier this week, Sen. Rand Paul and officials from across the state converged at Webster County’s Dotiki Mine to discuss the future of rare earth element mining and processing in Kentucky.
Local and state officials and members of the community toured the facility and learned more about the work being done at the former coal mine.
Additionally, the mine is at the forefront of a University of Kentucky study that has opened the door for the possible expansion into rare earth mineral mining and processing in Kentucky.
The study by UK’s College of Engineering has focused on the economic feasibility of extracting rare earth minerals from coal refuge piles to make use of the natural resources and infrastructure that remain from former coal production facilities.
The Dotiki Mine was home to coal mining up until 2019, when the operation ceased unearthing coal due to declines in the industry.
The addition of this mining and processing facility would be beneficial to the national and international supply of these minerals, as well as the state and local economies.