Sharon project hopes to cost-effectively extract rare earth elements from coal ash

Local News

SHARON, Pa. (WKBN) – The Sharon-based Winner Development Company continues to find uses for the former Westinghouse Electric plant. Its latest venture is a high-tech project that deals with byproducts of coal ash.

It’ll only create six jobs initially, and no one will say how many there could eventually be, but at least for a while, it’ll make use of a small portion of the huge building.

“We’ll set up an operation right in here. We’ll bring in some ash to demonstrate on,” said Todd Beers of Winner Water Services.

Later this summer, Winner Water will use a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to start experimenting with coal ash on a large scale, to see if it’s possible to cost-effectively extract rare earth elements from the coal ash. The elements, in turn, will be used in various ways.

But, what are rare earth elements?

“It’s a series of lanthanide minerals that’s used in a lot of different processes and products, mainly electronics, lasers, guidance systems, all types of different electronics, cell phones. It’s actually also big in alternative energy like solar power and things like that,” Beers said.

“It’s been a labor of love over the past few years trying to renovate and revitalize some of this old space. We’re happy that we have a company coming in to set up shop,” said Jack Campbell of Winner Development.

Sharon’s Westinghouse plant operated along North Sharpsville Avenue from 1922 to 1985. At its peak, it employed 10,000 people. Electrical transformers were mostly made there, but during World War II, production was shifted to torpedoes.

Now, it’ll be used to extract rare earth elements — of which there are 17 on the periodic table — from coal ash.

“We know that it’s possible. So what our work is really going to be doing is how economic is it. So we’re going to go out and really dig into it and say, ‘Yes, we know how to go about it but how well can we do it so we operate efficiently?'” Beers said.

Campbell hopes every company that leases space at the plant — there are currently six — leads to another company looking to locate there, too.

“They can see and visualize what it looks like once the space has been fixed up or revitalized and then they have a lot of interest,” Campbell said.

Winner Water hopes to have its coal ash extracting operation running by July or August. If it all goes perfectly, there’s a chance it could expand to the refining of other products.

Also, a dance studio will be opening soon at the plant, in a place that once made torpedoes.

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