Academic Report



Wencai Zhang, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Mining and Minerals Engineering Department, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, United States.

Dr. Wencai Zhang joined Virginia Tech as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering in August 2019. Over the past few years, he has been focusing on the sustainable recovery of critical elements from various resources, such as coal-based materials, bauxite residue, and municipal solid waste incineration ash. With a total support of around $10 million from many funding agencies and industrial stakeholders, his research group has developed several innovative concepts, flowsheets, and techniques for the recovery and purification of critical elements from complex solid and aqueous streams. Beside research, he also instructs four undergraduate and one graduate courses (e.g., Mineral Processing, Hydrometallurgy). Due to his excellent performance, he received the 2022 Outstanding New Assistant Professor Award from the Dean’s Office of Virginia Tech.

Dr. Wencai Zhang obtained his B.S. and M.S. degrees in Mineral Processing Engineering in China. He moved to the U.S. in 2013 and started his PhD study in Mining Engineering at the University of Kentucky. His dissertation research mainly focused on the flotation chemistry of monazite, a typical rare earth mineral used in rare earth production. After graduating in 2017, he worked as a postdoctoral research associate and then an assistant research professor in the same research group. In addition to his Ph.D. dissertation study, he also conducted extensive research on the recovery of rare earth elements from coal refuse. His research findings in this area contributed to the establishment of the first rare earth pilot plant in the U.S. for recovering rare earth elements from coal-based materials.

In the past few years, Dr. Zhang has authored/co-authored around 60 peer-reviewed journal articles and many conference papers and abstracts. He holds one U.S. patent, two Chinese patents, four U.S. patent applications, and three IP disclosures. He also serves as associate editor and/or editorial board member for several mineral processing and extractive metallurgy journals. He is currently supervising five Ph.D. students, two M.S. student, and many undergraduate research assistants.


Extractive metallurgy, including mineral processing and metallurgy, is the practice of recovering valuable components from natural and secondary resources and refining the recovered materials into purer form. As a traditional discipline, extractive metallurgy tends to be mature with many years of development, and various technologies have been widely used in industry to meet the needs of economic development for minerals and metals. However, with the rise of emerging technologies, supply chain interruptions caused by the epidemic, and changes in the international situation, a lot of new research & development (R&D) opportunities emerged to solve the issues threatening the economic development of different countries. In this presentation, some emerging R&D opportunities in extractive metallurgy in the United States are reviewed. In addition, the research topics of Dr. Wencai Zhang’s group at Virginia Tech are introduced. The audience is expected to get a good envision of the needs for extractive metallurgy in the new era.
Minerals and Mineral Materials
ISSN 2832-269X (Online)


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