Rare earth elements (REEs) are a series of chemical elements found in the Earth’s crust. Due to their unique chemical properties, REEs have become essential components of many technologies including electronics, computer and communication systems, transportation, health care, and national defense.
Did you know that most REEs are really not that rare at all? In fact, several REEs are more abundant in the Earth’s crust than lead or nitrogen. The real challenge associated with the retrieval of REEs lies in economic and environmental challenges rather than scarcity. Currently, China is the leading provider of REEs—controlling over 90 percent of the world’s supply! As the demand for REEs continues to grow, new and economically feasible approaches for REE recovery will be needed to ensure our Nation’s accessibility to these valuable resources.
Something else you may not know is that the Office of Fossil Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) is leading an effort to assess and develop technologies for the recovery of REEs from coal and coal by-products. NETL’s Rare Earth Elements Program aims to provide a pathway to improve the economics and reduce the environmental impact of a domestic coal-based REE value chain.
Our Nation’s vast coal resources offer the potential to reduce our dependency on others for these critical materials and create new industries in regions where coal plays an important economic role. In addition, development of an economically competitive supply of REEs will help to maintain our nation’s economic growth and national security.