The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) has selected 10 projects to receive funding for research in support of the lab’s program on Recovery of Rare Earth Elements from Coal and Coal Byproducts. The selected research projects will further program goals by focusing on the development of cost-effective and environmentally benign approaches for the recovery of rare earth elements (REEs) from domestic coal and coal byproducts.

The funded projects fall under two subtopic areas: (1) development of bench-scale and (2) pilot-scale technology to economically separate, extract, and concentrate mixed REEs from coal and coal byproducts, including solids and liquids from coal-related operations.

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 spanning a range of applications including electronics, computer and communication systems, transportation, health care, and national defense. The demand, cost, and availability of REEs has grown significantly over recent years stimulating an emphasis on economically feasible approaches for REE recovery.

NETL plans to provide initial DOE Fossil Energy (FE) funding for all ten projects to perform Phase 1 research. Phase 1 projects will include sampling and characterization of coal-related materials such as coal, coal mine roof and floor materials, and/or coal ash to identify suitable material for recovery of REEs; a techno-economic feasibility study; and a system design for the proposed REE recovery technology. Near the end of Phase 1, each project will provide their findings and a system design to NETL for evaluation and consideration to advance into Phase 2, the final phase of the project. Phase 2 projects will involve development and testing of the project-specific technology designed in Phase 1.

It is expected that up to two bench-scale projects and up to two pilot-scale projects will advance into Phase 2. The successful execution of these Phase 2 projects will lead to the development and application of technology for economically recovering REEs from domestic coal and coal byproducts.

Project descriptions follow.

Area of Interest 1: Bench-Scale Technology Development

A Pollution-Prevention and Economically Viable Technology for Separation of Rare Earth Elements from Powder River Basin Coal Ashes

The University of Wyoming (Laramie, WY) will design, develop, and test a three-step bench-scale extraction process that will use carbon dioxide and ferric chloride under supercritical conditions to recover REEs from Powder River Basin subbituminous post-combustion coal ash.

Phase 1 Cost: DOE: $599,987/Non-DOE: $220,609/Total Funding: $820,596 (27% cost share)

Novel Membrane and Electrodeposition-Based Separation and Recovery of Rare Earth Elements from Coal Combustion Residues

Duke University (Durham, NC) will develop and test a solvent extraction and membrane filtration process to recover and concentrate REEs from coal combustion residues originating from a variety of geographic locations within the U.S.

Phase 1 Cost: DOE: $720,100/Non-DOE: $182,495/Total Funding: $902,595 (20% cost share)

Recovery of Rare Earth Elements from Coal Mine Drainage

West Virginia University Research Center (Morgantown, WV) will evaluate two extraction processes for recovery of REEs from acid mine drainage (AMD) and AMD sludge from Northern Appalachian coal mines. Each process will be evaluated for efficiency of recovery, concentration, waste stream contamination, and cost.

Phase 1 Cost: DOE: $749,994/Non-DOE: $200,540/Total Funding: $950,534 (21% cost share)

Rare Earth Metals Extraction

Neumann Systems Group, Inc. (Colorado Springs, CO) will conduct testing of a supercritical carbon dioxide/co-solvent and conventional acid/base extraction process for the recovery of REEs from post-combustion fly ash from Powder River Basin subbituminous coal and fly ash from Eastern bituminous and anthracite coal.

Phase 1 Cost: DOE: $749,603/Non-DOE: $237,472/Total Funding: $987,075 (24% cost share)

Recovery of Rare Earth Elements from Coal with a Closed Loop Leaching Process

Battelle Memorial Institute (Columbus, OH) will develop and test Battelle’s patented closed-loop acid digestion process for recovery of REEs from Ohio-based Middle Kittanning coal and post-combustion coal ash.

Phase 1 Cost: DOE: $710,000/Non-DOE: $190,000 /Total Funding: $900,000 (21% cost share)

Bench-Scale Technology to Economically Separate, Extract, and Concentrate Mixed REEs from Coal and Coal Byproducts including Aqueous Effluents

The University of North Dakota (Grands Forks, ND) work will focus on testing methods to improve the physical properties, chemical treatment, and separation of REE from coal. This project will recover REEs from North Dakota lignite coal, coal sediments, and coal drying refuse materials.

Phase 1 Cost: DOE: $748,847/Non-DOE: $188,000/Total Funding: $936,847 (20% cost share)

Area of Interest 2: Pilot-Scale Technology Development

Pilot-Scale Testing of an Integrated Circuit for the Extraction of Rare Earth Minerals and Elements from Coal and Coal Byproducts Using Advanced Separation Technologies

The University of Kentucky Research Foundation (Lexington, KY) will develop and test a one-fourth ton/hour pilot-scale plant for the extraction of REEs from Central Appalachian bituminous coal preparation plant refuse. The extraction and recovery process will consist of both physical and chemical separation methods that are currently available for deployment at pilot scale.

Phase 1 Cost: DOE: $999,797/Non DOE: $320,212/Total Funding: $1,320,009 (24% cost share)

High-Yield and Economical Production of Rare Earth Elements from Coal Ash

Physical Sciences, Inc. (Andover, MA) will evaluate a physical/chemical separation technology program to optimize recovery of REEs at pilot scale. The anticipated capacity of the plant is approximately 1–5 tons/day of post-combustion coal ash from burning Fire Clay coal from Eastern Kentucky, and from combusting anthracite refuse. 

Phase 1 Cost: DOE: $999,463/Non DOE:$250,546/Total Funding: $1,250,596 (20% cost share)

Plasma-Based Rare Earth Element Recovery from Coal Fly Ash

Southern Research Institute (Birmingham, AL) work will focus on the development and testing of a metal melting process to concentrate REEs in post-combustion coal fly ash at pilot scale. The ash will originate from Central Appalachian, Eastern Kentucky bituminous coal.

Phase 1 Cost: DOE: $1,000,000/Non DOE: $289,900/Total Funding: $1,289,900 (22% cost share)

Economically Viable and Environmentally Benign High Performance Technology to Recover REE from Coal Byproducts

Tusaar, Inc. (Lafayette, CO) will evaluate their proprietary technology involving extraction and metal sorption media to develop a REE recovery process able to recover REEs from post-combustion coal ash produced from power plants in Kentucky and/or Ohio. 

Phase 1 Cost: DOE: $984,424/Non DOE:$246,122/Total Funding: $1,230,546 (20% cost share)