Aaron Noble, associate professor in the Virginia Tech Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering, has been named the recipient of the 2018 J.W. Woomer Young Engineer Award by the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration’s Coal and Energy Division (SME). The award recognizes Noble’s outstanding contributions to process engineering of advanced coal beneficiation systems.

“Aaron has certainly earned this award. His research serves society by both cleaning the environment and recovering critical minerals,” said Erik Westman, professor and department head of mining and minerals engineering.

Noble will be presented with the award during the 2019 joint SME Annual Conference and Expo and Colorado Mining Association 121st National Western Mining Conference in Denver, Colorado, next February.

“People are always busy and often think they are contributing 100 percent,” said Noble. “However, when inspired by a strong group of colleagues, they realize that they can actually work well beyond their maximum abilities.  While I am honored to represent the department with this award, I hope it also reflects well on the amazing team we have at Virginia Tech.”

Noble joined Virginia Tech’s mining and minerals engineering department in the summer of 2017 as associate professor and associate director for the Center for Advanced Separation Technologies. Prior to this appointment, he served as assistant professor of mining engineering at West Virginia University.

He earned his bachelor's in mining engineering from Virginia Tech in 2009 and was ranked first in his graduating class, a feat never before achieved by a student from the mining and minerals engineering program. He went on to join the Center for Advanced Separation Technologies as a graduate research assistant working in the field of mineral processing, completing both his master’s and doctoral degrees in four years.

Noble’s research focuses on developing cost-effective and environmentally benign approaches for recovering the elements from coal resources. If successfully implemented, they can provide a secure domestic source for these materials.

Noble works alongside colleagues Roe-Hoan Yoon, University Distinguished Professor, and Jerry Luttrell, the E. Morgan Massey Professor of Mining and Minerals Engineering, to economically separate, extract, and concentrate mixed rare earth elements from coal and coal byproducts. 

Noble is widely recognized by his colleagues and students as a passionate teacher. His students have elected him twice as a department Outstanding Instructor in both 2013 and 2018. He was an inaugural recipient of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration’s Academic Career Development Grant. Numerous professional honors and awards include: the SME Mineral and Metallurgical Processing Division Outstanding Young Engineer Award, the SME & American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers Rossiter W. Raymond Award, a Henry Krumb Lecturer, and Stefanko Best Paper Award.

Written by Angelo Biviano

Noble and his colleagues are working to economically separate, extract, and concentrate rare earth elements from coal and coal byproducts. While coal material has high concentrations of these elements, their forms and structures are difficult to separate.