November 18, 2022 - For generations, the waste from coal has been abandoned in sludge ponds, gob piles, and impoundments across Wyoming County and the coalfields of southern West Virginia.
New technology, created by Omnis Sublimation Recovery Technologies, will now allow those waste products to be extracted and sold as components in cell phones, computers and other electronic devices.
Omnis’ technology can extract pure metals from coal impoundment mineral waste using ultra-high heat without acids or harmful chemicals.
The technology recovers 100 percent of the metals, including all critical, strategic, and rare earth metals, with zero waste and no harmful emissions, according to officials.
Coal waste impoundments and gob piles are rich in critical metals, including strategic metals and rare earth metals. Millions of tons of these metals are concentrated from the natural coal seam sources. The coal mining process has concentrated these minerals, and they are available in the multitude of waste impoundments.
Omnis recently moved the company headquarters from California to Morgantown, explained Michelle Christian, vice president of global sustainability and innovation.
The company will invest $60 million in Wyoming County, creating 100 jobs to start.
Omnis has begun engineering and will immediately start site infrastructure. The building and equipment are expected to be completed and installed by mid-2023.
Each cell phone requires 46 rare earth metals to produce.
Currently, only six of those metals are processed in the United States; the other 40 are processed in Wuhan, China, according to Simon Hodson, president of Omnis.
“This is an incredible day,” Gov. Jim Justice told those attending the announcement Thursday afternoon in the Wyoming County Council on Aging Center.
If Omnis can recover those rare earth metals from coal waste, as Hodson says can be done, then “the potential is out the yin-yang,” Justice emphasized.
“This is a technology that may very well revolutionize this area.
“This is payback for all we’ve done for so, so many years.”
Justice said people in the area “have gotten up every morning, gotten their dinner buckets, and risked their lives” working in the mines, fueling the country.
He said Hodson may have the technology to extract the metals and keep the “environment pristine.”
Justice displayed a tube of one of the metals, indicating the minute amount is worth about $20,000 – or $151 million a ton.
“And it’s all right here, right now,” Justice said. “It’s in our impoundments; it’s all over the place.”
Justice said the company will create 100 jobs to begin.
“You’ve seen where somebody had a great idea that changed the world; this could change the footprint of West Virginia beyond all comprehension,” the governor emphasized.
“I am beyond excited to welcome this company to southern West Virginia,” Justice said. “Coal is such a big part of our state’s livelihood, and it’s amazing that we can now take the coal waste and turn it into something the world desperately needs, all while providing jobs to our hard-working people and investment to our great state.”
The same technology has been practiced for hundreds of years, but it’s never been refined, Hodson said. “We’ve been able to refine it.”
Hodson said a quarter of a million people in China are working in the industry.
China uses acid in the process, Hodson explained, and they are creating “10,000 tons of acid waste that will destroy the environment.”
“We’ve come up with a way that has zero waste,” Hodson said, adding the process also has zero impact on the environment.
He lauded the assistance of Gov. Justice, U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito as well as U.S. Rep. Carol Miller.
“They helped us to understand this place,” Hodson said, “or we never would have come to West Virginia.”
He said the company has also found some of the greatest people along with repositories of coal waste which harbor the rare earth metals.
“We have uncovered the legacy, the rich treasure your grandparents laid for you,” Hodson said.
“These rare earth metals will change our society,” he noted, adding that, through technology, the metals will help solve some of the world’s problems. “This will give us our next generation of prosperity.”
“Think about your dads, think about your granddads and grandmas, and maybe their granddads and grandmas,” Justice added.
“They had no idea about the treasures we’re talking about here today. But God knew,” Justice emphasized.
“This is a good day for Wyoming County and for southern West Virginia,” emphasized Mike Goode, chairman of the Wyoming County Economic Development Authority (EDA).
“This is a great opportunity for the county. We can’t let this go; we have to move forward. Whatever the EDA can do to make this happen, we will do it.”
“This could be really big,” Sen. David “Bugs” Stover, R-Wyoming, said. “If this company can do what they say, it’s proof that, in all the years we’ve mined coal here, we’ve thrown away more value by far than we ever got from the coal.”
“This is exciting,” emphasized Jason Mullins, Wyoming County Commission president. “This gives us more job opportunities and more options for our young people.
“These are good-paying jobs. This is the type of industry that Wyoming County needs,” Mullins emphasized.
This is a much different process than that of AmeriCarbon, which is moving into the Barkers Creek Industrial Park, explained Christy Laxton, county EDA director.
AmeriCarbon Products is building the United States’ first coal-to-carbon processing plant in the county’s new $7 million industrial park, located near Mullens. In three to five years, converting coal into carbon products is projected to jump from the current $10-billion-a-year industry to a $100-billion-a-year industry – and Wyoming County is expected to play a significant role in the market, according to officials.
The two industries will require different technologies, she said.
Both industries also provide an opportunity for the Wyoming County Career and Technical Center as well as Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College to create curriculums, based on the new technologies, that will create a guaranteed work force for both industries, Laxton said.
“We’re excited to welcome a company like Omnis to Wyoming County, and we look forward to a long-lasting relationship between the company and community,” she said.
“Omnis will provide a strategic asset to Wyoming County that will grow the economy with 100 jobs and provide the opportunity for additional surrounding business growth.
“We’re grateful for the strong partnerships between our Economic Development Authority, the West Virginia Department of Economic Development, and the Governor’s Office that make doing business in West Virginia possible for companies like Omnis,” Laxton noted.
This is the second investment announcement by the Omnis companies in West Virginia this year. In March, the governor announced that Omnis Building Technologies will build a $40 million, 150,000-square-foot facility in Bluefield to manufacture housing materials that will revolutionize the future of residential construction, creating 150 to 300 jobs in the process.