Coal has historically been an important resource and economic engine in northeastern Utah. Now, researchers at the University of Utah are studying other alternative uses, as well as other critical mineral deposits near the Uinta Basin.
They hope to find and transform raw resources into materials that can be used in electronic and renewable energy products. Lauren Birgenheier, an associate professor in the U Department of Geology and Geophysics, said they study the resources of coal and other non-combustible elements.
“Socially, we are moving from an era when we burn a lot of fossil fuels to this new era of energy use that consumes less fossil fuel,” said Birgenheier, who leads the geology part of the project. “So one of the possibilities for Utah coal is that they can bring in other resources that are important to our energy transition.”
The $ 1.5 million project is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. It is part of a nationwide effort to produce critical materials in the coal and power plant communities, so the country will not depend so much on foreign imports of rare earth elements.
“China’s near monopoly on rare earth metals makes the rest of the world dependent on them,” said Senator Mitt Romney, R-UT. “With this funding, Utah will continue to play a vital role in [the] U.S. production of rare earth metals and critical minerals, which will help rebuild our supply chain and decrease our dependence on China. ”
It’s still early in the project (researchers are starting to look at concentrations of materials in the region), but project leader Michael Free said it has the potential to transform parts of the state’s economy.
“[The project could] we offer Utah a little more diversity in terms of what we offer in terms of the production and manufacturing industry, “said Free, a professor at the U.” We could [also] to produce a variety of different products that would leave the state ”.
He said he hopes the Biden administration will continue to fund this project as they will potentially move on to developing resources in the future.