Science & Tech

Rare Earth Elements from Coal

According to the U.S. Dept. of Energy, University of Kentucky researchers have produced nearly pure rare earth concentrates from Kentucky coal using a less environmentally damaging and cost-effective process. This is a groundbreaking accomplishment in the energy and materials industry.

Rare Earth Oxides

Rare earth elements (REEs) are essential compo­nents in many electronics and military hardware but also used in manufacturing.

They are called rare earth elements not because they are so rare but because they are generally somewhat difficult to extract from ore and are usually found in low concentrations.

Rare-earth elements include cerium (Ce), dyspro­sium (Dy), erbium (Er), europium (Eu), gadolinium (Gd), holmium (Ho), lanthanum (La), lutetium (Lu), neodymium (Nd), praseodymium (Pr), promethium (Pm), samarium (Sm), scandium (Sc), terbium (Tb), thulium (Tm), ytterbium (Yb) and yttrium (Y).

Because China produces most of the world's REEs , interest in domestic production is at an all-time high in the U.S., with the Department of Energy investing millions in research.

The Kentucky process was able to recover more than 80% of the REEs present in the feed sources.

The process will be part of a one-fourth-tph (tons per hour) mobile rare earth recovery pilot scale plant being developed and tested by Honaker’s research team as part of the U.S. Department of Energy proj­ect. The plant is expected to become operational in the spring of 2018.

Extracting REEs from coal could be a popular en­deavor for the declining American coal industry, which faces a bleak future as an increasing number of power plants are converted to less filthy fuels.