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NETL’s Geo-Data Science Research Helping Pinpoint Unconventional Rare Earth Element Deposits
NETL Researcher Sophia O’Barr

NETL Researcher Sophia O’Barr scans core samples in the NETL-Albany Geoscience laboratory as part of the Lab’s rare earth element identification and characterization research. 

NETL research focused on finding and characterizing unconventional sources of rare earth elements (REEs) reached a pivotal maturation point this year with the public release of several tools and publications to help stakeholders accelerate next-generation, clean-energy technologies by tapping into a domestic supply of these critical minerals (CMs).

REEs are essential components of modern technologies such as cellphones, computers and electric vehicles, and as everyday devices become more high-tech, REE demand will continue to grow. Similarly, because REEs are necessary for building clean energy technologies, demand will further increase as the nation transitions to a clean energy economy.

“In just the last year alone, we have released five peer-reviewed, data-driven products that represent a valuable set of systematic and validated resources for finding and characterizing unconventional critical minerals. These REE data-science R&D products were developed in support of our Science-based Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Institute, or SAMI,” said NETL’s Kelly Rose, SAMI technical director. “These resources can help stakeholders see where REEs might be found, how much of the minerals might be present and determine what form the minerals will take.”

These products include:

  • An easy-to-follow, interactive story map that provides a visual introduction to critical minerals and related information.
  • The National Critical Minerals Dashboard that includes data sets that can be filtered geographically.
  • The Unconventional Rare Earth and Critical (URC) Mineral resource assessment method, which is the first systematic, artificial intelligence-informed, big-data approach to support exploration and evaluation of critical mineral resources associated with unconventional accumulations.
  • An assessment tool that produces forecasts and map-based analyses for a region of interest.
  • A study that improves systematic evaluation of critical minerals within rocks, mine waste, coal ash and more. This study and peer-reviewed publication demonstrated how the Lab’s techniques can more accurately and repeatedly analyze and assess CMs in unconventional materials.

These tools, publication and data sets, along with other valuable REE and CM information, can be accessed through NETL’s Energy Data eXchange.

“Additionally, we have another tool and publication expected to be public in 2023 that offer additional field-based demonstration and validation of these methods in the Central Appalachian Basin region,” Rose said. “Collectively, these efforts along with key research partnerships with the United States Geological Survey, state agencies, universities and industry are helping us fulfill the mission of an applied energy lab. We are excited to be part of this program’s mission to accelerate technology innovation and enable stakeholders to establish new environmentally prudent energy and material discoveries that will set us on the path to a domestic supply of critical minerals and a clean energy future.”

NETL is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory that drives innovation and delivers technological solutions for an environmentally sustainable and prosperous energy future. By leveraging its world-class talent and research facilities, NETL is ensuring affordable, abundant and reliable energy that drives a robust economy and national security, while developing technologies to manage carbon across the full life cycle, enabling environmental sustainability for all Americans.