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Feasibility of Recovering Rare Earth Elements



REE TableThe Feasibility of Recovering Rare Earth Elements Program is currently focused on developing technologies for the recovery of rare earth elements (REE) and critical minerals (CM) from coal and coal-based resources. This R&D program consists of developing process and production technologies, environmental management, and field materials sampling and characterization, along with systems integration, optimization and efficiency improvements to produce REEs and CMs from coal and coal byproduct streams, such as coal refuse, clay/sandstone over/under-burden materials, power generation ash and aqueous effluents as acid mine drainage (AMD) and sludge. 

Our nation’s vast coal resources contain quantities of REEs that offer the potential to reduce our dependence on others for these critical materials and create new industries in regions where coal plays an important economic role. The Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (DOE-NETL) REE-CM Program offers a pathway to improve the economics and reduce the environmental impact of a domestic coal-based value chain. The development of an economically competitive supply of REEs and CMs will assist in securing and maintaining our nation’s economic growth and national security.

Congressional Funding and Program Metrics
As a response to initially receiving Congressional funding in 2014 - to perform an assessment and analysis of the feasibility of economically recovering rare earth elements from coal and coal byproduct streams, such as fly ash, coal refuse and aqueous effluents - DOE-NETL’s REE Research, Development and Demonstration (RD&D) Program grew to over 30 active projects in 2018, which focused on:

  • Prospecting - Field sampling, characterization and identification of “best” materials and their domestic reserves.
  • Processing- REE extraction, separation and recovery projects, as well as demonstration of concept feasibility at bench‐scale through pilot‐scale integrated process system testing.
  • Production - Generation of market-ready REEs. 

Through its metrics, the REE Program fully supports FY19’s Congressional directive - to continue its external agency activities to develop and test advanced separation technologies and accelerate the advancement of commercially viable technologies for the extraction and recovery of rare earth elements and minerals from U.S. coal and coal byproduct sources. 

REE OrginizationProgram Structure

The Feasibility of Recovering Rare Earth ElementsProgram consists of three key core technology areas:

  • Enabling Technologies- Develop DOE-NETL’s technology knowledge base through resource identification, field sampling and characterization, techno-economic analysis development and field and/or process sensor development.
  • Separations Technologies - Address the viability of utilizing commercially available extraction and separation equipment and/or systems that have been developed for alternate technologies, and demonstrate their capability (i.e., technology transfer) for the extraction and separation of REEs from coal-based materials. In parallel, develop new/novel embryonic/transformational REE extraction and separation concepts/processes.
  • Process Systems- Design/construct/operate bench-scale and/or small pilot-scale systems to validate the capability of producing REEs from coal-based resources.



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Technology area contact:

Mary Anne Alvin