News Release

Release Date: August 16, 2017

DOE Invests $17.4 Million in Projects to Advance Recovery of Rare Earth Elements from Coal and Coal Byproducts


Today, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) selected four projects to move on to a second phase of research in their efforts to advance recovery of rare earth elements (REE) from coal and coal byproducts. DOE will invest $17.4 million to develop and test REE recovery systems originally selected and designed under phase 1 of a prior funding opportunity announcement through DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy (FE).

REEs are a series of chemical elements found in the Earth’s crust that are essential components of many technologies, including electronics, computer and communication systems, transportation, health care, and national defense. The demand for REEs has grown significantly over recent years, stimulating an emphasis on developing economically feasible approaches for domestic REE recovery. These four selected research projects will further the goals of FE’s Rare Earth Elements Program by focusing on the development and validation of cost-effective and environmentally benign approaches for the recovery of REEs.

The projects, expected to be completed by 2020, fall under two areas of interest: (1) bench-scale technology to economically separate, extract, and concentrate mixed REEs from coal and coal byproducts, including aqueous effluents; and (2) pilot-scale technology to economically separate, extract, and concentrate mixed REEs from coal and coal byproduct solids.

The following two bench-scale projects were selected under area of interest 1:

  • The University of North Dakota Institute for Energy Studies (Grand Forks, ND) will use North Dakota subbituminous lignite coal and coal-related material as feedstock to test their REE recovery system. In addition to producing REEs, the team plans to recover other material from the lignite feedstock to produce one or more value-added products.  $2.75 million
  • West Virginia University Research Corporation (Morgantown, WV) will use acid mine drainage solids as a feedstock for recovery of REEs and other useful materials. The solids are from Northern Appalachian and Central Appalachian bituminous coal seams in West Virginia.  $2.66 million

Two pilot scale-projects were selected under area of interest 2:

  • Physical Sciences, Inc. (Andover, MA) will use coal fly ash physically processed near Trapp, KY. as their feedstock. The fly ash is a byproduct of combusting Central Appalachian bituminous coal in a power plant boiler. The select portion will be shipped to a Pennsylvania location for subsequent processing to produce the final rare earth product. In addition, researchers will evaluate recovery of other useful materials from the fly ash.  $6 million
  • The University of Kentucky Research Foundation (Lexington, KY) will use two sources of coal preparation (coal washing) byproducts as feedstock for recovery of REEs. The team will also recover dry, fine coal from the feedstock material. The first location for installation and testing of the pilot plant will be at a coal preparation plant in Perry County, KY that processes Central Appalachian bituminous coal. The second location for testing of the pilot plant will be at a coal preparation plant that processes Illinois Basin bituminous coal near Nebo, KY.  $6 million

To learn more about REEs and other fossil resource programs within the Department’s Office of Fossil Energy, visit their website HERE.