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US DOE finds high concentrations of rare earth elements in American coal basins

EBR Staff Writer Published 30 November 2017

The US Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) has identified high concentrations of rare earth element (REE) in coal samples collected from several American coal basins.

Collected from the Illinois, Northern Appalachian, Central Appalachian, Rocky Mountain Coal Basins, and the Pennsylvania Anthracite regions, the samples were found to have high REE concentrations greater than 300 parts per million (ppm).

NETL said: “Concentrations of rare earths at 300ppm are integral to the commercial viability of extracting REEs from coal and coal by-products, making NETL’s finding particularly significant in the effort to develop economical domestic supplies of these elements.”

NETL has partnered with West Virginia University (WVU), the University of Kentucky (UK), Tetra Tech, and the XLight for the research project.

As part of the project, WVU explored acid mine drainage from bituminous coal mines in the Northern and Central Appalachian Coal Basins, while Tetra Tech assessed bituminous, subbituminous, and anthracite coal from the same basins.

The University of Kentucky was responsible for analyzing western Kentucky bituminous coal in the Illinois Coal Basin while XLight assessed coal-related materials in the Eastern Pennsylvania Anthracite Region.

US Energy Secretary Rick Perry said: “Rare Earth Elements are vital to the development and manufacturing of high-tech devices such as computers, cell phones, and our national defense systems.

"The current difficulties and high expenses associated with REE extraction has left the U.S. dependent on foreign REE imports. 

“Supporting innovative research and development to establish efficient, cost-effective REE extraction methods is critical to our country’s energy and national security.”

NETL expects the findings to help technology developers to recover REEs from these basins.

Separately, DOE is undertaking a research initiative to design, develop, and test technology to help recover REEs from coal-related materials in coal basins.