High concentrations of rare earth elements (REEs) have been documented in coal samples collected from several American coal basins. Analyses conducted by researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) demonstrated REE concentrations exceeding 300 ppm in coal from the Illinois, Northern Appalachian, Central Appalachian, Rocky Mountain Coal Basins and the Pennsylvania Anthracite region.
Concentrations of rare earths at 300 ppm are vital to the commercial viability of extracting REEs from coal and coal byproducts. The research is expected to advance the development of economical domestic supplies of these elements.
The agency partnered with West Virginia University (WVU), the University of Kentucky (UK), Tetra Tech and the XLight for the research 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. UK 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.
A separate research initiative is focusing on DOE cost-shared research projects to design, develop and test technology to actually recover REEs from coal-related materials in U.S. coal basins. Recovery initiatives will use materials from the high-REE containing coal basins as feedstocks. They include WVU using acid mine drainage from bituminous mines in the Northern and Central Appalachian Coal basins as a feedstock, with final design and construction of bench-scale test facilities beginning in January 2018. A second bench-scale facility is being designed for construction by the University of North Dakota to recover REEs from lignitic material.
UK also began pilot-scale design and construction in October 2017 for systems using West Kentucky bituminous coal preparation plant refuse from the Illinois Coal Basin. A second pilot-scale facility is being designed and constructed by Physical Sciences Inc.
Analytical results for REE-bearing coal-related material at the state and county level can be found at NETL’s Rare Earth Elements Energy Data eXchange website.