Back to Top
Skip to main content
In partnership with NETL, researchers at Idaho National Laboratory (INL), Rutgers, Arizona State University, OLI Systems and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory are developing new sensing methods of detecting rare earth elements (REEs) contained within America’s fossil energy resources using luminescent detection. REEs include the lanthanide elements along with scandium and yttrium. These elements are used in a wide variety of strategic and economically vital industries such as energy, defense, medical technology and consumer electronics. With most existing REE supplies controlled by foreign countries, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and NETL have funded numerous research projects that will create a domestic REE supply chain using the nation’s historic energy resources. INL sought to develop a new simple, sensitive and rapid approach for detecting REEs in any kind of carbon-based solid or liquid. This approach had to be applicable to diverse chemical and mineral matrices that will effectively detect REEs in aqueous solutions at less than one part per million (ppm) and distinguish it between multiple REEs co-occurring in the same sample.
Rare Earths
The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM) has awarded nearly $18 million to advance eight projects to extract Rare Earth Elements (REEs) and other Critical Minerals (CMs) from materials such as coal waste materials and support revitalization in regions across the country that face economic adversity due to declines in coal and power plants communities. Each of the eight projects had previously worked with DOE to develop a conceptional design of a technology to produce at least 1-3 metric tons per day of mixed rare earth oxides or rare earth salts and other critical minerals (CMs) from mostly coal-based sources. Rare earth elements and critical minerals are vital in the construction of medical equipment, energy components, defense technologies, modern electronics and a host of other consumer goods. 
In partnership with NETL, researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) are building a new prototype sensor for rapid in-field detection and characterization of rare earth elements (REEs) in fossil fuel-based resources and waste materials. REEs are vital in the construction of medical equipment, energy components, defense technologies, modern electronics and a host of other consumer goods. In many cases, these REEs cannot be substituted with other minerals, and other countries control most of the world’s REE supplies. The LANL researchers are combining their expertise to develop a backpack-size field-portable unit to provide simultaneous chemical and mineralogical analysis of REEs. Specifically, the LANL team is leveraging their research in laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) combined with Raman spectrometry.
FOA Logo
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today awarded $19 million for 13 projects in traditionally fossil fuel-producing communities across the country to support production of rare earth elements and critical minerals vital to the manufacturing of batteries, magnets, and other components important to the clean energy economy. Facing persistent shortages in domestic supply, the U.S. has been forced to rely on imported materials, leaving clean energy technology production at greater risk of disruption. Projects will be managed by DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). “The very same fossil fuel communities that have powered our nation for decades can be at the forefront of the clean energy economy by producing the critical minerals needed to build electric vehicles, wind turbines, and so much more,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “By building clean energy products here at home, we’re securing the supply chain for the innovative solutions needed to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 – all while creating good-paying jobs in all parts of America.”
NETL and the U.S. Geological Survey have signed a memorandum of agreement to work together on rare earth elements research.
NETL and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) to share geologic samples containing rare earth elements (REE) and critical minerals (CM). The arrangement will bolster REE and CM research for both organizations and help ensure vital components of clean energy technology will continue to be manufactured well into the future as the nation works to secure independence from offshore REE reliance. In addition to being used to create many of the technologies Americans use every day, REEs are essential for manufacturing of batteries for electric cars, magnets for wind turbines, solar cells and other technologies that are paving the way toward a net-zero emissions energy economy by 2050. Furthermore, NETL research is focused on extracting REEs from coal and coal byproducts, reimaging coal in the form of valuable products to provide new jobs in areas hard hit by declining industries.
Pilot scale
A NETL-supported project by Physical Sciences, Inc. (PSI) has demonstrated its capabilities to produce rare earth element (REE) concentrates using available coal ash resources from Appalachia, providing a potential domestic source of these critical minerals and a means of local environmental remediation. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and NETL have prioritized the creation of a domestic supply chain for production of REEs because they are crucial for a variety of economic, energy and defense applications. However, the current supply chain is dominated by other countries. Therefore, a domestic source would insulate the U.S. from any disruptions in global trade of REEs, and America’s coal ash based resources show promise to become that source.
A NETL-supported project at the University of Kentucky (UK) successfully conducted pilot-scale testing in their facility that was designed to extract mixed rare earth elements from coal and coal by-products using advanced extraction technologies, achieving production of mixed rare earth oxide (MREO) concentrates of up to 98% purity and exceeding original project goals. During Phase I of their first DOE-funded rare earth recovery project, which began in March 2016, UK and project partners Virginia Tech, West Virginia University, Minerals Refining Company, Blackhawk Mining, and Alliance Coal performed a feasibility study and developed a preliminary design for a pilot-scale plant to process up to ¼ ton per hour of coarse coal refuse and recover rare earths from feedstock materials from the Central Appalachian Basin and Illinois Basin.
FOA Logo
The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy (FE) has announced $28.35 million in federal funding for cost-shared research and development projects under the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) DE-FOA-0002404, Advanced Processing of Rare Earth Elements and Critical Minerals for Industrial and Manufacturing Applications. The U.S. imports more than half of its annual consumption of 31 of the 35 critical minerals (CM). The U.S. has no domestic production for 14 CMs and is completely dependent on imports to supply its demand. CM are used in the manufacture of high-tech devices, national defense applications, and green growth-related industries. One of these CM, rare earth elements (REE) are the 15 elements in the lanthanide series shown in the periodic table. Scandium and yttrium are included in the manufacture of cell phones, LED screens, solar panels, energy infrastructure, defense technologies, and other essential high-tech applications. The U.S. currently imports 80% of its REEs directly from China, with remaining portions indirectly sourced from China through other countries.
An NETL-supported project at the University of North Dakota (UND) to economically extract strategically important rare earth elements (REE) has shown that lignite is a potential domestic source of these vital minerals using a process that also produces valuable by-products and takes advantage of existing mining infrastructure. REE have been designated as critical minerals by the U.S. Department of the Interior due to their unique properties, which are essential and often non-substitutable in a variety of consumer goods, energy systems and defense applications. With China largely controlling the global production and value chain, the U.S has begun moving to generate domestic supplies of these critical resource, a task NETL has supported with its partners in academia such as UND. During UND’s work, researchers simplified an acid-leaching REE extraction process to a single step for economic benefit.
An NETL-supported project at West Virginia University (WVU) to extract economically and strategically important rare earth elements (REEs) from Appalachian coal resources reached new milestones, such as partial automation of the recovery process, and exceeded its original REE purity and recovery goals. Researchers at WVU’s Water Research Institute used the on-campus Rare Earth Extraction Facility (REEF), which was designed, constructed and commissioned in 2018 as a part of this cooperative agreement, to demonstrate that acid mine drainage (AMD) precipitates from mining sites could be transformed into valuable revenue streams for local communities and businesses using the method of acid leaching solvent extraction (ALSX). “The research conducted at WVU continues to be a source of encouragement,” said Jessica Mullen, NETL federal project manager. “While there is still more work to be done, these researchers have demonstrated that Appalachia can be an attractive source of domestic REE production. If optimized, we may one day see AMD as an opportunity for economic growth instead of just a waste product, all while cleaning up the environment in the process.”