University Community | Research and Impact

Daramola wins ORAU's Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award

Damilola Daramola, assistant professor and assistant director for research at Ohio University's Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment, has been awarded the Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award by Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU). This award recognizes Daramola’s work to extract rare earth elements (REE) from coal mining waste. 

Rare earth elements are critical in the development of modern technologies, including everything from batteries for electric cars to clean energy solutions, like wind turbines. As scientists and engineers continue to develop strategies for a more sustainable world, extracting REEs in an economically and environmentally sustainable way is more essential than ever before. 

Currently, the majority of the world’s REEs come from the Asian Pacific region. The dependence on the region has proven problematic, however, as supply chain issues have emerged in recent years. Ultimately, exploring extraction methods from domestic natural resources will allow for the United States to establish greater resource dependence.

One of the barriers to extracting REEs domestically is cost efficiency. The monetary value of each REE is different, ranging from as little as $4 per kilogram to $1000 per kilogram. Because traditional extraction methods are expensive, there is a need for a solution that is scalable, which would make domestic extraction financially viable.

“Recovering these materials is only sustainable if the energy they are used to generate can fully offset the energy spent on recovering them in the first place. This work will focus on lowering the energy required to extract these materials by first concentrating them from their dilute forms and then calculating the energy required for this concentration,” Daramola said.

Daramola will collaborate with John Olesik, professor at Ohio State University, to assess strategies to extract REEs from mining waste in Pennsylvania. The goal is to use electrochemical processes to evaluate the performance of this extractant strategy and assess its viability to be both modular and scalable for future extraction projects across the US. 

Daramola has dedicated his research background to exploring sustainable energy solutions. He has worked in developing electrochemical technologies for nutrient recovery from wastewater and conducted research in wastewater treatment. He has had projects funded by the Ohio Water Development Authority and the Department of Energy, both of which highlight his commitment to identifying sustainable energy solutions. 

“In the past, sustainability research was viewed as socially responsible rather than imperative; however, global phenomena and empirical evidence has intensified the need for recovering resources rather than discarding them. These opportunities to create a more sustainable environment will ensure the longevity of human, animal and plant life,” Daramola said.

Because REE’s are used to produce environmentally sustainable and clean energy technologies, developing solutions to extract these materials is critical to achieve independence from fossil fuels. Additionally, REEs can be extracted from coal byproducts and waste, such as acid mine drainage. This process reinforces the need to identify opportunities to transform waste and byproducts into useable materials.

“It’s an incredible honor considering this award was highly competitive and I am fortunate to be a representation of the infrastructure available and the supportive research environment at Ohio University. Awards like this pave the way for future opportunities where the results from this project can be extended,” Daramola said.

August 10, 2022
Chloe Musick