News Release

Release Date: July 24, 2017

NETL Partnerships Help Accelerate Rare Earth Elements Research

Yttrium, one of the 17 rare earth elements, is used in the production of computers and mobile phones.

In addition to the robust in-house rare earth elements (REE) research conducted at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Technology Laboratory (NETL), the Laboratory also partners with leaders in industry and academia to facilitate REE technology research and development, and its potential deployment. REEs are valuable for manufacturing a vast array of high-tech products, and these strategic partnerships amplify NETL’s contribution toward recovering REEs from domestic coal and coal-based products. As commented by Chuck Miller, NETL Federal Project Manager, “The DOE-NETL REE Program portfolio currently comprises 14 active external projects that are achieving remarkable successes.”

NETL manages five bench-scale and four pilot-scale projects, initiated in March of 2016, that are making significant progress developing high-performance, economically viable, and environmentally benign technologies to recover REEs from domestic coal and coal by-products. Within the first 6 months of the projects, partners achieved a production of ≥ 2 percent by weight REE pre-concentrates from coal-based materials.

These projects included sampling and characterization of REE-bearing feedstocks, laboratory testing of processes to extract REEs from those feedstocks, and design of bench-scale and pilot-scale systems to recover REEs from the feedstocks. These projects involved research leaders in academia and industry including Battelle Memorial Institute, Duke University, The University of North Dakota, The University of Wyoming, West Virginia University, Physical Sciences Inc., the Southern Research Institute, the Tusaar Corporation, and the University of Kentucky. The goal of these projects is to identify innovative processes using existing separation technologies and process designs that will work to minimize or reduce the environmental, safety, and health impact of radioactive and other by-products, and optimize the overall economics of the separation and recovery process.

Additionally, NETL manages five other projects, that began in October of 2016, to identify and characterize domestic coal and coal by-products containing high REE concentrations. These projects consist of work to identify, locate, field sample, and chemically analyze materials from various regions of the country including material from the Illinois Coal Basin, Northern Appalachian Coal Basin in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, Central Appalachian Coal Basin in West Virginia, and the Raton Basin in Colorado and New Mexico.

Besides working with industry and academic partners, NETL held a workshop in August 2016 to support of the REE program and the Office of Fossil Energy, providing an open forum for industry, university, and government agencies to discuss potential opportunities and research requirements addressing the feasibility of developing one or more prototype systems for production of high-purity salable rare earth compounds from domestic coal and coal by-products by 2020.

Read more about each of these projects, including their individual successes and goals on the NETL Rare Earth Elements webpage.