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Today, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and NETL announced plans to make available $122 million in federal funding for cost-shared research and development under the funding opportunity announcement (FOA) Carbon Ore, Rare Earth, and Critical Minerals (CORE-CM) Initiative for U.S. Basins. “The Trump Administration is committed to developing technological solutions to extract rare earth elements, critical minerals, and other valuable products from our Nation’s abundant coal reserves,” said Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette. “These projects have an important role; they will help develop a viable domestic supply of these resources while creating new market opportunities for coal.” This funding is a part of the CORE-CM Initiative, which is sponsored by DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy. This initiative for U.S. basins is intended to catalyze regional economic growth and job creation by realizing the full value of natural resources, including coal, across basins throughout the Nation.
Low rank coal ash after rapid expansion by sCO2 in an attempt to alter surface area.
With support from NETL, researchers from the University of North Dakota (UND) and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) identified unique pathways and pretreatments to extract rare earth elements (REEs) from low-rank coal (LRC) ash in a more economical and environmentally sustainable manner that can be adjusted to meet variable conditions. LRCs, such as lignites, are one of the most abundant fossil fuel sources in the world.  NETL-supported project with UND and PNNL researchers has shown that the ash from LRCs can be a potentially viable source of REEs. The research team conducted an extensive characterization effort to understand the form, associations and partitioning of the REEs along with other relevant elements and minerals in the fly ash samples, as well as the ash chemistry, mineralogy and morphology. Understanding these intricacies was a vital step in developing the method for extraction and recovery of the contained LCR REEs.
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The United States Energy Association recently hosted a webinar to provide an update on critical minerals (CMs) and rare earth elements (REE) research development and deployment (RD&D) being performed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy (FE), including NETL’s robust in-house research project portfolio as well as the Lab’s extramural program portfolio. The webinar featured opening remarks by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Kenneth Humphreys and Traci Rodosta, program manager for FE’s Critical Minerals and Coals to Products program. Additional speakers included REE and CM experts from NETL, who were joined by those from industry and academia.
Mac Gray
In his long career at NETL, McMahan Gray has experienced more than a few successes. For example, the award-winning research chemist has made valuable contributions to remove carbon from industrial emissions and extract rare earth elements (REEs) from coal byproducts, wastewater and even acid mine drainage. Another ground-breaking contribution may be just around the corner. As part of an ongoing research effort, Gray serves on an NETL team that’s writing a new chapter in the long productive history of coal that may revolutionize how the mineral is used in the future. The team has found that rather than combust coal to produce energy, it can be used in new ways to fuel a transformation in carbon-based, high-tech manufacturing to produce safer cars, faster computers, stronger homes, bridges and highways, and even life-saving biosensors to confirm the presence of disease in the human body.
In an NETL-supported project with Virginia Tech, researchers developed a safe and  efficient processing technology that can extract and concentrate rare earth elements (REE) from coal refuse material already found throughout the Appalachian region, namely in shales and clays. The new process opens the door to future commercialization, as it decreases the size and cost of needed systems. The technologies involved in this process leveraged simple ion-exchange leaching techniques currently used by industry. The Virginia Tech team focused on modified leaching lixiviants, a novel liquid material, instead of acids commonly used to concentrate and extract REEs. Lixiviants are liquid media used in hydrometallurgy to selectively extract the desired metal from the ore or mineral. It assists in rapid and complete leaching, in this case extracting valuable REEs from coal refuse.
With the completion of a recent field test at Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, NETL researchers demonstrated that the Lab’s basic immobilized amine sorbent (BIAS) process could successfully extract rare earth elements (REEs) from acid mine drainage, potentially providing a reliable domestic supply of critical materials needed to produce wind turbines, electric and hybrid electric vehicles, computer components, medical devices, smart phones and other valuable products. Located near Settlers Cabin Park about 10 miles west of downtown Pittsburgh, the Garden was developed on land that was once actively mined for coal and is the site of ongoing efforts to treat acidic water that drains from abandoned mining operations. NETL’s work to remove REEs from mine drainage is rooted in the development of sorbents to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from coal-burning power plants.
M Alvin
Mary Anne Alvin, an NETL Technology Manager who has earned multiple awards and holds numerous scientific patents, will serve as co-editor of a new book on rare earth elements (REEs) that’s expected to provide the first comprehensive review of the technologies used to extract and process REEs for the manufacturing of high-tech products. “Rare Earth Industry Status and Prospects” is scheduled for publication release by Springer Publishing Company in May or June 2021. It will encompass the international scientific community’s expertise across the entire REE value chain — from field deposits through conventional and the latest state-of-the-art extraction, separation and processing methodologies, alloying, critical market sectors, REE application needs, and much more.  “The development of a reliable and abundant domestic supply of REEs is a priority for our nation. Being able to participate in the editing of a comprehensive, overarching book on rare earths is not only timely, it’s something that hasn’t been done to date, which positions this work as a potentially groundbreaking project,” Alvin said.
Fly Ash
In an NETL-supported collaboration with Wayne State University (WSU), researchers used a newly developed sorbent and a process previously developed for nuclear applications to produce an economically viable concentration of rare earth elements (REEs) from domestic coal fly ash, signaling an important step toward commercialization. The new sorbent media developed by WSU researchers, in collaboration with the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), successfully concentrated the REEs in a coal fly ash sample taken from a coal-fired power plant near Detroit, resulting in a rare earth oxide (REO) powder of more than 13 percent weight, which demonstrates potential for economic viability. Using custom-built reactors at LANL, researchers used hydrothermal leaching to extract the REE content from the fly ash. A new sorbent developed at WSU was used in a solid-liquid recovery process, which eliminated the use of potentially hazardous organic solvents. The process combined multiple techniques previously developed to process spent nuclear fuel and other nuclear materials.
Dr. Mengling Stuckman
An NETL collaboration with the University of Wyoming to develop technologies and methods for extracting rare earth elements (REEs) from coal ash is taking a major step forward with a recently awarded grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Technology Commercialization Fund. The project will work toward scaling up a patent-pending extraction technology developed by NETL researchers Christina Lopano, Ph.D., and Mengling Stuckman, Ph.D., and will ultimately result in a pilot-scale production facility. By demonstrating the economically viable production of rare earth elements from coal-related feedstocks, the project has potential to launch a new industry in extracting critical REE materials from the ash of Wyoming’s Powder River Basin coals. 
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The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and NETL intends to make approximately $122 million available, through a competitive process, to establish coal products innovation centers. The innovation centers will focus on manufacturing value-added, carbon-based products from coal, as well developing new methods to extract and process rare earth elements and critical minerals from coal.  “It’s vitally important that America develop a viable domestic supply of rare earth elements, critical minerals, and other valuable products from our vast coal resources,” said Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette. “This effort moves us closer to that goal. The Trump Administration has been aggressively investing in research and development for novel uses of coal that have the potential to create new markets for coal and coal byproducts. Sustaining domestic coal production creates new economic opportunity for coal state economies and benefits the Nation.”