U.S. Lab Works to Increase Rare Earth Element Recovery from Domestic Supplies of Coal

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January 8, 2018

U.S. Lab Works to Increase Rare Earth Element Recovery from Domestic Supplies of Coal

Male hands in gloves holding coal. Scientist with a sample of coal. Black coal in miner's hand.

Image: University of Kentucky

In the last few months, Rare Earth Elements have become more interesting for different parties due to several reasons. One of the most relevant, is the increase of the Electric Vehicles (EV) market that uses these elements in various componets, such as motors, batteries, glass and LCD Systems, just to name a few.

Considering that China remains the main supplier for these minerals, with aproximately 90% of the market, it’s not a surprise that many countries are seeking for new ways to obtain these elements.

One of them is the U.S., which is looking for ways to increase its ability to recover rare earth elements (REEs) in domestic supplies of coal.

In words of the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) in a recent statement, “Four rare earth elements (REEs) recovery projects managed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy and the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) have made significant progress in the development of a domestic supply of REEs from coal and coal by-products by successfully producing REE concentrates”.

According to the website AgMetalminer, the lab has run four test projects in different parts of the country. One of them is Physical Sciences, Inc., a pilot-scale project that achieved 40% REE concentration at 15% REE recovery using post-combustion fly ash from burning Central Appalachian Basin coal. “Field implementation and testing of physical processing technology will occur in Kentucky, with subsequent chemical processing in Pennsylvania”,said the website.

In parallel, another pilot-scale project from the University of Kentucky achieved more than 80% REE concentration at greater than 75% REE recovery using Central Appalachian Basin and Illinois Basin coal preparation plant refuse. Know, the project team plans to implement and test their technology at multiple field locations in the state.

Also, a bench-scale project from the University of North Dakota achieved 2% REE concentration at 35% REE recovery using North Dakota lignite coal. The University will build and test the technology in their laboratory.

Finally, another bench-scale project from the West Virginia University achieved 5% REE concentration at greater than 90% REE recovery using acid mine drainage solids from the Northern Appalachian and Central Appalachian Basins. The university plans to build and test their unit in their laboratory.

In the words of AgMetalminer, any new domestic capacity to recover REEs in the U.S. “will be met with happiness by domestic end users, who have to pay a fortune for these rare and valuable materials”. The same could occure in Chile, if El Cabrito Project located in Biobio Region approves it’s Environmental Assesment Study -which will be entered in the next weeks- and develops its first Commercial Plant in the commune of Penco.

SOURCE: AgMetalminer