DOE funds $6.9M in projects to extract REEs from coal

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is building on earlier funding into research aimed at pulling rare earth elements (REEs) from coal.

The DOE today said it will it will invest $3 million through three projects that will receive about $1 million each. The projects will use coal sourced from  Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Another $3.9 million is promised for projects in new topic areas that accelerate separation and extraction processes for REEs.

In 2015 the department set aside about $20 million to fund projects aimed to quickly develop bench scale and pilot scale plans for recovering REEs from coal and coal by-products.

Since 2014 the DOE has been investigating the economic feasibility of recovering the coveted elements — used as ingredients in magnets, batteries, catalytic converters and high-tech products — from coal and coal byproducts.

The three projects to receive funding include:

  • Equinox Chemicals LLC (Albany, GA) and project partners will conduct laboratory testing and prepare a technical design for a pilot plant to produce salable REEs. They will use by-products from an existing eastern Kentucky coal preparation plant as their source of REEs.
  • Inventure Renewables (Tuscaloosa, AL) and project partners will use coal-related materials from an eastern Pennsylvania anthracite coal mine as their source of REEs.
  • Marshall Miller & Associates (Bluefield, VA) and project partners will conduct laboratory testing and prepare their technical design for a pilot plant to produce salable REEs. They will use by-products from an existing West Virginia coal preparation (coal washing) plant as their raw material for extracting REEs.

Recently US scientists found what could be key for the future of the country’s ailing coal industry as they detected that ashes from local operations, particularly those around the Appalachian region, are very rich in rare earth elements.

Researchers from North Carolina-based Duke University analyzed coal ashes from coal-fired power plants throughout the US, including those in the largest coal-producing regions: the Appalachian Mountains; southern and western Illinois; and the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana.

One of the team's main conclusions was that coal waste generated by the Appalachian coal operations was the richest in rare earth elements, containing 591 milligrams of the coveted elements per kilogram of ashes.