The coal community of Kentucky can be proud, and sometimes stubborn, but the state is adapting to the changing energy landscape at an unexpectedly high and innovative pace.
Hower and his university colleagues, for example, have partnered with the Department of Energy in the research of "rare earth elements," a group of 17 metals that are vital in the production of smartphones, wind turbines, solar panels and dozens of other modern-day technologies.
REEs, which include metals like scandium, yttrium and neodymium, are said to make up a $7 trillion global market, while supporting $500 billion to $600 billion in other industries. The United States imports 90 percent of its REEs from China, which holds a near monopoly over the market. This is despite the presence of 13 million metric tons of rare earth elements within the continental United States, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Hower said it's too soon to provide an estimate for REE resource potential in Kentucky, specifically.
"REEs can make Kentucky a player," Hower said. "You're not going to displace the entire range of imports from China, but if you could make a dent in it, that can go a long way."