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NETL and the U.S. Geological Survey have signed a memorandum of agreement to work together on rare earth elements research.
NETL, U.S. Geological Survey Sign Agreement to Bolster Rare Earth Element 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.

“This a great opportunity to work with an organization that has historically provided valuable nationwide assessments of our natural resources,” NETL Director Brian Anderson, Ph.D., said. “Our Lab has a unique capability to complement the USGS research through our proven REE analysis capabilities.”

For nearly a decade, NETL has advanced efforts toward securing a domestic supply of new, unconventional sources of rare earth elements through in-house research and external partnerships. The MOA will be beneficial to all of these efforts, and the acquisition of large amounts of new high-quality data will be particularly valuable for research involving the Lab’s REE Sedimentary Resource Assessment Method (REE-SED), which is developing a geo-data science-driven approach to assess REEs in coal and related systems.

“REE-SED uses big data and machine learning to identify domestic REE deposits from sedimentary systems,” said NETL’s Kelly Rose, Ph.D., who developed the method with the Lab’s GAIA Research Group. “So, an influx of new REE data that includes the geologic context of the sample will help to train the ML models and further refine the accuracy of this tool, leading to improved predictability and reduced uncertainty.”

A more refined REE-SED tool will enable stakeholders to make more informed decisions, identify areas of higher prospectivity and ultimately assess if REEs occur in adequate concentrations and volumes to support commercial extraction from U.S. basins.

NETL’s REE and CM research, enriched through this interagency cooperation, will also support the U.S. Department of Energy’s newly established Division of Minerals Sustainability, which will bring an increased focus to securing a U.S. CM supply chain that will make U.S. energy and manufacturing systems cleaner, more resilient and more secure.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory develops and commercializes advanced technologies that provide clean energy while safeguarding the environment. NETL’s work supports DOE’s mission to ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy and environmental challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.