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Assessment of Rare Earth Elements and Critical Minerals in Coal and Coal Ash in the U.S. Gulf Coast
Project Number
Last Reviewed Dated

The objectives of the study are to quantify rare earth elements (REE) and critical minerals (CM) resources in feedstocks within the U.S. Gulf Coast Basin, including coal from mines, coal ash from power plants, and refuse. REE and CM will also be quantified in water co-produced with oil in reservoirs adjacent to coal resources. Additional objectives include linking these mineral resources to manufacturing of high-value products, including nonfuel carbon-based products (CBPs), planning the development of a Technology Innovation Center, and stakeholder outreach and education to achieve the overall goal of enhancing economic growth and job creation to support economic development in the Gulf Coast.


University of Texas at Austin - Austin, TX, 78759
Geological Survey of Alabama – Tuscaloosa, AL 35486
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) – Reston VA 20192
University of Kentucky – Lexington, KY 40511
University of North Dakota Institute of Energy Studies - Grand Forks, ND    58202
University of Wyoming – Laramie, WY 82071


The methods involve development of coal and ash resource assessments by leveraging previous coal assessments and using power plant ash data. The geological assessment involves mapping the resources, considering depositional environments and structural data, resulting in a detailed geomodel of the Gulf Coast coals. Analysis of REE and CM in ~50 - 100 samples of coal and ash are designed to substantially expand the existing database and deepen our understanding of the potential for these resources. The Gulf Coast Basin has many surface lignite mines that have been highly under sampled for REE and CM; however, potential REE and CM resources may be as high as shown in studies of North Dakota lignite. In addition, much of the coal combusted in power plants in the Gulf Coast over the past decade is sourced from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, which has been shown to be promising in terms of REE and CM recovery. The study will benefit from rapidly expanding REE and CM processing in the Gulf Coast providing feedback on quality needs and resource value. The intensive industrialization in the Gulf Coast region represents a large market for REE and CM products. The comprehensive assessment of REE and CM is designed to evaluate the volumes of these feedstocks and link upstream and midstream supply chains with downstream processing and manufacturing to enhance U.S. national and economic security.


CORE-CM projects will develop and implement strategies that enable each specific U.S. basin to realize its full economic potential for producing REE, CM and high-value, nonfuel, carbon-based products from basin-contained resources. U.S. CORE-CM projects will focus on the following six objectives: (1) basinal assessment of CORE-CM resources, (2) basinal strategies for reuse of waste streams, (3) basinal strategies for infrastructure, industries, and businesses, (4) technology assessment, development, and field testing, (5) technology innovation centers, and (6) stakeholder outreach and education.

Accomplishments (most recent listed first)
  • Built a project website to help further share the project ideas, activities, progress, resources, and presentations:
  • Identified and analyzed large, detailed sets of coal and coal related data from past state, federal, and university projects, tables, databases, and geographic information system (GIS). Data represented a distribution of coal resources in the Gulf Coast Regional basin and was analyzed to a depth of 300 ft in the Gulf Coast Basin. The analyses were based on data from 26,750 boreholes, and we developed regional isopleth maps of total coal thickness which showed coal extending from the Texas/Mexico border northeast to Mississippi/Alabama. The dominant coals are lignites, mostly from the Wilcox and Jackson Groups of Paleocene and Eocene age. Texas accounts for ~53% of the coal tonnage (16.5 billion short tons) within the top 100 m of depth, followed by Mississippi (28%; 8.7 billion short tonnes), and Louisiana (14%, 4.5 billion short tons).
  • Compiled data on coal ash resources throughout the U.S., with particular focus on the Gulf Coast Basin and estimated how much coal ash might be accessible as a resource for REEs and other critical minerals. 
  • Collected samples of coal and lignite from core collections, coal sample collections, and other resources, mostly from USGS samples archived at USGS headquarters in Reston. Some samples were also collected from an older coal collection in Alabama and represented outcrops and drill core.  
  • Sent approximately 50 samples from USGS archived mine samples from the Gulf Coast for analysis of REEs and CM at Standard Labs. Levels of REEs were variable with the highest levels found in Gibbons Creek mine (Total Rare Earth Element, TREE: 1,000 - ~8,000 ppm on a dry ash basis).  Levels in San Miguel Mine were also high (TREE: ~300 - ~900 ppm dry ash basis). The remaining samples had TREE levels ranging from ~ 200 -500 ppm (dry ash basis). 
  • Explored data on the economic value of different REEs and critical minerals using data from USGS annual reports and discussed results with USGS scientists. 
  • Compiled data on lithium concentrations in produced water from the USGS and published reports. Analyzed ~30 samples of produced water for lithium from different oil and gas reservoirs in the Gulf Coast Basin from an archive of samples at the Bureau of Economic Geology. Results show generally low levels of lithium in most regions. 
  • Performed field work to identify and record lignite stratigraphic and geographic information.
  • Gave several presentations to both general and scientific audiences in person and virtually for outreach to educate and share ideas on REEs, critical minerals and coal; these presentations were posted to the project website.
  • Organized a critical minerals session with 14 speakers at the Geological Society of America national conference. The title of the session was Technical Session 51: Assessing Critical Mineral and Rare Earth Element Potential from Unconventional Resources in the United States. Our group gave two presentations on coal resources and coal ash resources in the Gulf Coast region. 
  • Compiled and assessed population characteristics in relation to the study area’s key coal resources and mines to assist in building strategies for outreach and education.
Current Status

Regular project review and working group meeting are planned to continue. The project website will continue to be populated. Lignite coal samples from Gibbons Creek will be sent to the University of North Dakota to conduct sequential leaching and assess the ease of extraction of REEs. Meetings are planned to discuss coal ash resource mapping with groups in other regions throughout the U.S. A subcontract is also planned to apply remote sensing approaches to map coal ash resources in the Gulf Coast Basin.   

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Performer Contribution


Contact Information

NETL – Scott Beautz ( or 918-497-8766)
University of Texas at Austin - Bridget Scanlon ( or 512-471-8241)