Cera unveils new coal research projects

COLUMBUS — Ohio Rep. Jack Cera, D-Bellaire, announced Tuesday the approval of about $1 million in funding by the Ohio Coal Technical Advisory Committee on which Rep. Cera serves.

The grants will go toward pilot programs that explore novel uses for coal and associated byproducts.

Cera highlighted two projects that explore methods of extracting rare earth elements from coal. REEs have emerged as an essential component for high-tech manufacturing. They are found in products such as cell phones, computers, medical equipment and automobiles. As demand has grown, China has emerged as the predominant supplier of REEs worldwide.

One proposal, put forward by Ohio University, will use electrochemical technology in pursuit of increased REE extraction efficiency. Another University of Cincinnati project focuses on extracting REEs from coal preparation plant refuse. Each will receive around $250,000 in state funding.

“What makes these projects so exciting is the potential to address a couple different issues at the same time,” Cera said. “We’re always on the lookout for ways to get more revenue and value out of the coal we produce in Ohio. In addition, harvesting rare earth elements here at home would reduce our dependence on countries like China which have flooded the market with cheap REEs.”

Cera also commented on the approval of $250,000 for research sponsored by Ohio University related to coal-plastic composite. CPC is a newly-designed material that has the potential to be used in a variety of industries, including as a decking board. Funds from the grant will go toward creating a performance-rating system to determine what types of CPC could be suitable for commercial use.

“When it comes to emerging technologies, there’s always a gap between what we can do in the lab and what makes sense in the real world,” Cera said. “This project helps build the infrastructure to evaluate CPC and hopefully create a new market for Ohio coal.”

In total, four new projects were approved as part of the Ohio Coal Demonstration and Pilot Program. The program, administered through the Ohio Development Services Agency, provides funding for projects that examine innovative uses for Ohio coal.